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HPCmusic Strives to Make Stereo Obsolete – The $100 Billion opportunity
Many believe that the internet led to the collapse of the music industry. Other industries equally exposed to piracy though have continued to flourish alongside the internet
By Rob Johnson
(more articles from this author)
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Continual advances in computing technology catalyze rich, new experiences for consumers. This evolution is experienced daily through our mobile phones, handheld devices, computers, and even home appliances. In contrast, the music industry is overdue for a similar paradigm shift and a new way to engage today's listeners. HPCmusic believes they have the solution to take music experiences – and the industry itself -- into the future.

A major industry challenge resides in the business model delivering music to today's consumers. Rather than purchasing physical media, like CDs and vinyl records so common in the past, many consumers rely on streaming and download services, which produce limited revenue for artists and music industry professionals. Compounding this, piracy of digital music represents a continual problem hampering the industry as it reduces artist royalties. The number of potential music consumers worldwide has quadrupled from 1998 to 2014; yet, ironically (according to IFPI) the annual revenue from recorded music has dropped nearly 50%, from $26.6 billion to $14.6 billion.

Many believe that the internet led to the collapse of the music industry. Other industries (equally exposed to piracy), however, have continued to flourish alongside the internet.

A second barrier for the music industry lies in consumers' audio experiences. Two-channel stereo sound has persisted as the standard for many decades. While today's higher bandwidth digital audio files offer some improvement in sound quality, the majority of listeners experience compressed audio files which actually offer less fidelity than even the compact disc standardized almost 40 years ago. Since they are accustomed to basic stereo sound, listeners do not envision the possibilities for high fidelity, multi-dimensional formats that can offer an unparalleled music experience they will be excited to pay for.

Enter HPCmusic

Technology pioneer Antonis Karalis and his colleagues at HPCmusic believe they have the answer to turn around declining industry revenue and ubiquitous stereo sound. They have assembled a brain trust of music producers, sound and acoustic engineers, computer scientists, and other experts. They believe they have developed the new audio platform offering the advancements necessary to propel the music industry into the future.

Karalis and his team have many years of research experience in various fields, including psychoacoustics, computing, audio engineering, and music production. This expertise enables the HPCmusic team to understand how the human ear and brain interpret sound, providing the necessary insight to create a new and advanced audio format -- and music experience -- they refer to as HPC4D.

Think of HPC4D as an upgrade in audio experience akin to looking at a 3D hologram, as opposed to a traditional photograph. HPC4D music embraces multichannel audio like a surround sound system in a theater. However, it builds on top of that to make the music experience far more captivating. HPC4D is a multichannel, multidimensional and dynamic music structure created by sophisticated computing of the space, time and the tone fabric of sounds in coherence with melody, harmony and rhythm. Simply put, it is a deeply immersive soundscape like that which we hear naturally. Moreover, the algorithm maps real-time psychoacoustic calculations and simulations of electrical properties of analog audio. Combined, these elements bring music production into groundbreaking levels of hyperrealism. This is immensely important for popular genres like rock, pop, EDM, RnB and movie scores where hyperrealism is the tool of trade.

While it may sound like fiction, HPC4D music is very real. It is the first music experience creating using supercomputing. HPCmusic, combining their Aural Computing Engine (ACE) and advanced computing power from Intel's latest technologies, enable immersive audio experiences previously impossible. In HPCmusic's labs reside several real-world examples of the technology in action. For instance, a visitor can interact with a touch screen and create their own HPC4D music experience real-time. Listeners can also enjoy specially-engineered prototype HPC4D versions of popular songs from Britney Spears to Michael Jackson as well as film score music. Those who react to the demonstrations rave about the multidimensional experience which renders a typical stereo or surround recording flat and lackluster by comparison.

Technological Advancement

So why hasn't HPC4D music caught on yet? In short, the computers used by today's recording studios lack the power necessary to create HPC4D sound. HPC4D music creation requires deep signal manipulation, on thousands of audio streams, in real-time. A typical computer used in studio settings today simply chokes under pressure.

Creating HPC4D music requires a foray into the field of High Performance Computing (HPC) – today's supercomputers. Often used in scientific research, HPC solutions empower scientists to tackle the most daunting challenges like mapping the human genome, or simulating the creation of the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang. For the non-scientists among us, think of it this way: A basic laptop computer's brain today consists of a single processor with four "cores" augmenting computational power. In contrast, HPCmusic optimizes special computing systems for HPC4D music which utilize multiple processors simultaneously, putting 1,500 or more cores on tap (ATLAS). This is only possible using an advanced audio computing engine (ACE) over a very low latency interconnect (Intel® Omni-Path Fabric).

Comparing HPCmusic's HEXE and other common solutions. Computing power and speed are measured in FLoating-point Operations Per Second (FLOPS) – or in the case of supercomputers – Billions of FLOPS (GFLOPS)

Just a few years ago, this magnitude of computing speed would require large racks of noisy hardware, an equally large capital expense, and specially integrated software. Today, thanks to the development of Intel Scalable System Framework (Intel SSF), the technology powering the HPCmusic's production platform is cost-effective and user-friendly for a producer, composer, engineer or songwriter. "The HPC4D sound-stage is so complex to create that it would be impossible without the exclusive use of HPC. Everything stays in the HPC domain, and in real time. We are now working on adding layers of artificial neural networks in our set of propositional formulas. This will enable audio tools based on artificial intelligence -- a much faster music production workflow for HPC4D music." Said Karalis.

Karalis and colleague Panagiotis Kontopoulos are working with their partners on a new system, code named "HEXE". The system delivers 150x more audio processing power than industry standard music production systems today running Pro Tools HDX. More importantly, it is 100X more cost effective for its computing performance ($/GFLOPS) as a platform. The desktop computer sized form factor allows easy placement in a studio; prices for entry HEXE supercomputers start around $15,000. Currently, HPCmusic is working on a radically new business and market model that will bring the cost of ownership even lower. With Intel and HPCmusic's technologies in place, composers and engineers can bring previously unattainable innovation into music creation.

HPCmusic's new HEXE system, powered by Intel® Scalable System Framework

Sound of the Future

With technological hurdles overcome, HPCmusic drives forward with their mission. They envision their new sound experience taking hold in consumer platforms like cars, cinema, virtual reality, and mobile devices. They also seek to make HPC for music easier for the music industry to adopt. First, HPC4D technology reduces the number of speakers needed for a surround sound experience. At the same time, it maintains full compatibility with existing surround sound setups. Karalis also recognizes the need to develop technologies to support piracy free music, returning more revenue to musicians.

As Karalis notes, "It is very important for us to create a revenue stream for musicians. They need a revolutionary canvas for their creations and a wider color palette. This is why we created HPC for Music."

Distribution of HPC4D content creates another major consideration for both consumers and industry professionals. Listeners worldwide must be able to access and purchase these new experiences easily. The size of HPC4D audio files makes the use of a physical disc like a CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray impossible. Delivery will be based on intelligent cloud and 5G cellular technologies, combined with a secure (piracy free) vertically integrated infrastructure.

Better Sound Everywhere

Karalis emphasizes the benefit of HPC4D sound technology for other industry applications. Movies today take advantage of high resolution, HDR and higher FPS video formats; with HPC4D, the audio and music accompanying those visuals proves equally stunning.

Video game developers use advanced computing to create increasingly immersive user experiences helping virtual reality (VR) headsets gain popularity. As more and more VR developers acknowledge, the sound brings the ‘reality' into Virtual Reality.

The "connected car" represents another opportunity. Most new cars today are equipped with a multi-speaker system, yet unfortunately, the technology is heavily underused. Karalis sees a much more comprehensive use of a multi-speaker system.

"For four years now, we have been secretly developing the first Entertainment Platform for Autonomous Vehicles, which will most likely be the first consumer platform for HPC4D. We started with a Tesla Model S and we now test on a BMW i8." says Karalis. "The autonomous car embodies features ideal for the music industry. It is piracy free and secure by design, plus it has many speakers that are not fully utilized. An average commuter spends 50 minutes in traffic each day, and that time can be enjoyed with high quality entertainment."

HPCmusic's HPC4D sound tests, BMW i8

Brains behind the Brawn

While sound generated by an HPCmusic solution appears effortless to a listener, realizing it required breakthrough innovations. Envisioning the full potential for HPC, Intel invested heavily to bring the necessary technology to life.

To deliver the computing power required for HPC4D, many elements of the Intel® Scalable System Framework (Intel® SSF) come into play. HPCmusic's computing system utilizes Intel® Xeon Phi™ and future Intel® Xeon® processors, enabling the utilization of 1500 cores in real-time. Combining this with Intel® Omni-Path Fabric, Intel® Optane™ Technology based on 3D XPoint™ non-volatile memory media, Intel® Solutions for the Lustre* parallel file system, and Intel® Parallel Studios Software Suite HPCmusic solutions have all the power they need to enable very complex musical creations.

Yes, it's a mouthful to describe, but with these cutting edge innovations providing the technological engine under the hood, HPCmusic is now capable of delivering a music production platform not feasible before. "We are extremely humbled by Intel's support. For us, Intel's technology is the key to unlocking the future," says Karalis.

Inside HPCMusic's Labs

Limitless Creativity

When stereo sound displaced mono recordings, consumers never looked back. Years later, surround sound technology went further to create a more immersive sound experience. Today we can go further. The dedication of Karalis and the team at HPCmusic, combined with Intel's latest advancements in high performance computing, marks the beginning for the Digital 2.0 era for music and sound on films, car audio, virtual reality and gaming.

Karalis is very optimistic about the future of HPC for music, noting, "We are honored to partner with the best audio software developers in the world, like Flux, AAS, U-He, 2CAudio, Sonible, DMGAudio, Softube, Eiosis, and Rob Papen. HPCmusic is not just about making products. We are all about making the machine that makes the products. We are now deeply into a commercialization master plan that approaches music as vertical market. We have reached multiple technology innovation milestones, including several awesome demonstrations with Intel. We have two other major demonstrations of our technology coming soon: One experience will be showcased at the next Consumer Electronics Show, and the other through a blockbuster movie." He adds, "We already work on macroeconomics, market awareness and scaling. We will continue collaboration with different industries like technology, automotive, and consumer electronics, in order to create synergies. Together, we will take music into the future."

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