Unless you have been on vacation on Mars or the Moon for the past few weeks, the build-up and hype surrounding the celebration of hip hop’s 50th anniversary.was overwhelming, culminating with a concert at Yankee Stadium on August 11th, the birthday of an artform that would eventually become known as hip hop music. In the middle of all of the self-aggrandizement banter and trash-talking was another important musical and computing milestone: the 35th anniversary of online music and digital media that was launched by the great inventor Andre Gray.
That’s right. Sandwich between all the media blitz commemorating hip-hop’s historic milestone was the celebration of an epochal moment in computing and digital music and media history. But, in order to understand the impact of Gray’s innovations, one must first understand what the internet was like before Gray came along.
Launched in 1969 as ARPANET by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the initial and primary purpose of this new medium of communication and information dissemination was in response to the technological developments by the USSR during the cold war, which kicked into high gear when the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957. From 1969 until 1988, ARPANET was used almost exclusively for military and academic purposes. There were no websites, no music, no videos, no graphics and no photos. In other words, the internet was a very opaque and boring place to visit or hang around on for hours on end.
Andre Gray logged onto the internet for the first time in 1985, and, according to him, he was immediately hooked. He also noticed that there was no music on the internet, something that both surprised him and inspired him to do something about it. Being quite familiar with computers and synthesizers from the time he spent at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and later the Institute of Audio Research, Gray decided to compose and upload the first song to the internet, an audacious undertaking that would cement his place in history as a great inventor. Besides, Gray’s first invention was as a high school student in 1982 when he wrote a paper titled (dot)RPM – an influential paper that worked out the mathematical formula for audio codec for computer music. This, then, should make Gray’s job easier, but not necessarily easy.
Gray was quite aware of the technological limitations with regards to creating, storing and sharing digital media on computers or over the internet of the 1980’s. But, more importantly, Gray, who was quite proficient in MIDI, also knew that MIDI notes were information that is a very small file that can be readily uploaded to the internet using any one of the free FTP softwares that were in circulation at the time.
On August 8, 1988, Gray successfully uploaded his MIDI composition to the internet he titled “Internet Killed The Video Star”, a song that signaled the birth of online music and digital media & entertainment in general. The song also spoke pointedly to the democratization of the internet and served as a calling card to all DIYs. Along with the song, Gray also released two other revolutionary inventions simultaneously.
First, inkling, the world’s very first internet bot (with artificial intelligence), whose primary function was to gather statistics on the access and downloads of the song and report it back to Gray’s database. Today, more than 85% of all internet growth and activities are attributed to internet bots, every single one of them traces their roots directly to inkling.
Second, the voicemail icon. Multiple voicemail softwares have been in circulation since the 1970’s, but the voicemail icon design wasn’t. What Gray did, apparently, was to create a new voicemail software by incorporating the best features of those previous softwares, but, more importantly, Gray designed a very simple voicemail icon that looks like a reel-to-reel tape. This simple design, that, according to Gray, took no more than 30 seconds to draw, is now used on all 15 billion mobile phones today and counting.
Before Gray launched the online digital revolution in 1988, military and academia accounted for more than 99% of all internet content and activities. Today, digital media now occupies more that 99% of all internet content and data, whereas military and academia occupies a tiny fraction of one percent. Honoring his epochal achievements, Blush Celebs Magazine featured Gray on its cover with a nice feature story about him. Streetwave Media Online Magazine also featured him. And, as a testimony to his global reach, some Brazil TV and radio stations are playing the song and video “Internet killed The Video Star” for the entire month of August. In the UK, Gray was interviewed on a popular internet radio station and in continental europe, the song was played in heavy rotation in countries like norway and Spain. This is a small but fitting tribute to a man whom many consider to be one of the greatest inventors of all-time.
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