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Two Computers and a Microphone [Ray Gun, Dec 1999]

As MP3 technology blows up, software like the Tactile12000 breeds virtual DJs. Ben Running gets the scoop.

The MP3 revolution poses a big threat to some, while others herald it as the most promising new digital technology to spring forth in years. However you slice it, it has the potential to change the way you listen to music.

There is, of course, nothing inherently illegal about MP3 technology; it's the use of it that has music industry bigwigs sweating. After all, what is the digital music on compact disc, but a series of ones and zeroes - ones and zeroes that can be reproduced and transmitted by computers exactly and infinitely. MP3 compression has turned a world of console cowboys (and girls) into download DJs, giving free access to hundreds of thousands of illegally copied songs.

Thus far, much to the chagrin of music executives everywhere, the MP3 story has been a victory for the underdog. Several largely failed attempts at "secure" digital music formats that prevent illegal copying have since coe and gone (the Microsoft secure music format was cracked on the day it was released). A barrage of anti-MP3 sentiment fro the Recording Industry Association of America has done little as well. eanwhile, support for MP3 technology has gone from the underground realm of siple music players to the mainstream world of Macromedia's Shockwave Flash web development tools and Apple's QuickTime media software (to name a few). Web sites like and have become major hubs for the legal distribution of music, and you won't find a major web search engine lacking an MP3 locator these days. Diamond Multimedia took the big first step in moving MP3 from the computer to the street with its Rio portable digital music player, and was quickly followed by a bevy of other manufacturers. As a sure sign that the superpowers of the digital world are giving in, Sony has even announced a product that plays digital audio files in addition to compact discs.

Recently released software fro Tactile Pictures throws a new spin on MP3 - quite literally. The Tactile12000 is a digital recreation of a fully equipped DJ rig, complete with two scratchable turntables, a cross-fader, tempo control, record cueing, and of course, the ability to load your own MP3s for mixing. I must admit, I expected to become an instant turntable terrorist and was a bit disappointed at first (perhaps due to my lack of proper MP3 source material - raw beats, loops and house tracks). After an hour of mixing and scratching, back-cueing and cross-fading, I finally got the hang of things. The 33/45 control, paired with the precise tempo adjustment, makes beat-matching a breeze. You can even drag the turntable arm around to move forward and back in a track. Smooth. I was a bit miffed to discover that I couldn't save the mixes that I was creating. That is, create a new MP3 file of my own turntable wizardry. Once it hits the speakers, your work is gone. But never fear - plans for the future include streaming your mixed output back to the net for all to hear.

While the Tactile12000 may not satisfy the most seasoned DJs in the crowd, it is an endless source of entertainment for novices and definitely scratches the turntable itch. And if turntablism isn't your bag, take advantage of Tactile12000's Auto DJ feature. Just kick back and let the software do all the work for you, smoothly mixing together all the tracks in your playlist. True slacker bliss.


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