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Company aims to 'sonify' Web, partners with Yahoo

Added: (Mon Nov 22 1999)

Pressbox (Press Release) - By Scott Hillis

Beatnik Inc. wants to bring you the Internet with all the bells and whistles. Literally.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is pushing what it calls the 'sonification' of the World Wide Web in which sounds and music are generated with the nudge of a mouse or the tap of key.

On Monday, the privately held company will expand a partnership with online media giant Yahoo! Inc. (NasdaqNM:YHOO - news) that will showcase its suite of audio tools so visitors can remixsongs by Brittney Spears, Moby and Weird Al Yankovic.

Aspiring sound engineers can e-mail their sonic tweakings to friends, who can then listen to the modified tune on Yahoo. A contest will give prizes to the best remixes.

"If you looked at the presence Yahoo had over the past several years ... it's been all about data and text and information," Matt Rightmire, Yahoo's General Manager for Entertainment and Media, said in an interview.

"This is the first step into making that medium an entertaining one and more compelling that just raw data," Rightmire said.

While Yahoo is eyeing the promotion to see if it will make visitors hang out on its site longer, Beatnik is hoping the backing of big-name pop artists will draw attention to its services, and make the Web a noisier place.

"For the Web to reach its full potential, high quality audio and sound needs to be a part of the experience," Beatnik Chief Executive Officer Lorraine Hariton said.

"We believe we will be the brand for interactive sounds on the Web," Hariton said. "The launch on Yahoo represents a real showcase of what this is all about."

Beatnik makes money by licensing its Audio Engine and other tools such as a 'sound bank', or collection of sounds, to Web site designers. Besides Yahoo, MTV.com and Microsoft's WebTV have also deployed the technology.

Founded by 1980s pop star Thomas Dolby Robertson, the company is counting on wider support from music companies and artists because its technology doesn't download or stream music, so piracy is not an issue.

Instead, a song or sound is disassembled and a blueprint of how to rebuild it is read by a user's Beatnik player.

"We're not actually sending music, it's not actually downloading the music. It's just sending a few bytes of information on how you configure the song," Hariton said.

Beatnik expanded its product range earlier this month when it acquired closely held Mixman Technologies Inc., which lets users create, record and remix multitrack music.

"If you turned on the TV and no sound came out, you would know immediately that something was wrong. But on the Internet, if a sound pops out, it's a little surprising," Dolby Robertson said.

"This an incredibly exciting time for me because I'm right at the time when this is absolutely going to explode on the Web," he said.

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