The Digital Beat: The Moby Nation

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Despite the heat, the romance with digital music has been a fairly passive affair: Netizens were swapping music online but not really getting down, dirty, and creative. Now, with a burgeoning breed of DJ warez made specifically for MP3 and other e-music formats, the revolution won't just be digitized -- it'll be mixed.

Available readily across the Net, these machines and programs let you manipulate digital tunes just like scratchy old vinyl. The most stylish of the bunch is Tactile 12000 (www.tactile12000.com), which lets you play back a cued song in your left channel, while the other one plays on the right. And there's an automatic DJ mode that cross-fades for you while you kick back. PCDJ (www.visiosonic.com), one of the best for amateurs, is freeware that covers the basics of DJ 101. The radio-style interface looks like a lot of MP3 players, except it's split in two so you can twiddle a couple tracks simultaneously -- adjusting pitch, fading between songs and marking cues so you can start again at the desired beat every time. Created by a twenty-year-old former Doom hacker, Virtual Turntables (www.carrotinnovations.com) is cleverly made DJ shareware is fun enough for amateurs, but sophisticated enough for the professionals.

In short, the warez offer something for everyone. And that's a good, good thing. Pros get high-end hardware tailor-made for playing MP3's in live performance. Amateurs choose from dozens of shareware titles and plug-ins that give them the rudimentary tools of cross-fading, pitch adjustment and automatic beat-per-minute equalization. The shout-out: Look ma, no discs!

Pure digital music, after all, is a DJ's wet dream. There are no albums to schlep. No sleeves to mismatch. No snap, crackle, pop. MP3 is a considerably cheaper way to go -- imagine the catalogue when a T-1 is piped directly to the club. And, possibly best of all, there's instant access; instead of rifling through tomato crates for that fly Kraftwerk 12-inch, just type the criteria in a customizable database and blammo: "Tour de France, Tour de France."

The digital music mavens seem to think there's a future for such tools. MP3.com, the increasingly corporate Web hub, once added Visiosonic consumer-geared shareware, PCDJ, to its A-list of MP3 players. Like birds to a hippo, a flurry of digital DJ plug-ins have been landing on homepages for leading MP3 software like WinAMP.

Essentially, the art of DJ'ing is becoming more and more like a video game. All someone needs is a PC (preferably at least a Pentium II), Windows 98, speakers, sixteen megabytes of RAM, and at least one healthy soundcard (though an additional one will open up the options). Once loaded into the cozy and familiar desktop, all a newbie has to do is point and mix. Without the hassles of two turntables and a microphone, this could just give rise to the Moby Nation -- for better or worse.

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