Auld Lang Syne

Over the past seven years, I've covered a lot of cool new technologies in "Tech Page" that could have interesting musical applications in the future.

Over the past seven years, I've covered a lot of cool new technologies in "Tech Page" that could have interesting musical applications in the future. I thought it might be fun to use the last "Tech Page" of the second millennium to look back at some of these technologies and see, with the benefit of hindsight, how they have fared since I first wrote about them. (Of course, the new millennium doesn't officially start until January 1, 2001, but try telling that to the billions of people who will be celebrating a year early.)

I've always maintained that any computer technology is fair game for "Tech Page"; we use general-purpose computers for musical applications, and modern electronic-music devices are nothing more than computers dedicated to making or recording music. Processing speed, storage capacity, and transmission bandwidth have a direct impact on music technology, and all three are increasing more or less along the lines of Moore's Law, doubling every 18 months or so at a given price point.

Moore's Law was originally applied to the number of transistor elements within integrated circuits, but these elements can't continue to shrink forever; at some point, they will approach the size of molecules and atoms. When this happens, possibly within 20 years or so, we will enter the realm of nanocomputing (discussed in the June 1996 "Tech Page"), biomolecular computing (covered in the July 1995 column), and quantum computing (September 1997). Research into these possibilities is still in its infancy, and it's difficult to see any significant progress since I wrote about them.

In addition to these rather far-out ideas, I have also presented some processing technologies with more immediate potential in "Tech Page." For example, the PowerPC (covered in the March 1994 column) has become the heart of all current Macintoshes, and gigahertz microprocessors (May 1998) should become available by the end of next year. Digital signal processing (DSP) chips have also become increasingly powerful and pervasive, including the Motorola DSP56000 series (January 1993) and Analog Devices' SHARC (February 1997).

My very first "Tech Page" (November 1992) looked at two competing digital audio media: Sony's MiniDisc and Philips's Digital Compact Cassette. Although DCC was backward-compatible with standard analog cassettes, and some argued that it sounded better than MD, it quickly disappeared, whereas MD is now a viable consumer format.

The use of short-wavelength blue lasers (January 1994) and multiple layers within an optical disc (August 1994; see Fig. 1) led directly to the development of DVD (July 1998), which promises to become one of the most successful distribution media ever, with a storage capacity of 4.7 to 17 GB. Originally intended for video material, DVDs can also be used to store multichannel digital audio at higher sampling rates and resolutions than standard CDs allow.

In terms of transmission bandwidth, it looked like Apple's FireWire (July 1996) and other implementations of IEEE 1394 (such as Sony's i.Link and Yamaha's mLAN) might sweep through the computer industry to become the new interconnection standard for all sorts of data-intensive devices. With a current bandwidth of 100 to 400 Mbps, it's much faster than RS232/422, SCSI, USB, and Ethernet. Furthermore, 800 Mbps systems will be here soon, and 1,600 Mbps FireWire is under development. Although it has been slow to appear in the marketplace for various marketing and economic reasons, FireWire still has tremendous promise, especially for digital video and audio applications. On the other hand, digital subscriber lines (March 1997) have become a very popular high-bandwidth connection to the Internet in just a couple of years.

It's been said that the defining technologies of the 20th century were already being developed in the 1890s, so it makes sense to look at the emerging technologies of today for an idea of what life may be like in the next century. For electronic musicians, we can count on increasing processor speed, storage capacity, and bandwidth to convey our music to a world hungry for the gifts it can bestow. Happy New Millennium! A