Two spacey ways of finding media: music collections, heirarchy, and images of planets in Planetary for iPad, top. Sound and loop collections, “magnetic” relations, algorithmic categorization, and rapid torchlight auditioning in Soundtorch 2.0 for Windows, bottom.

If your music and sound collections seem like outwardly-expanding universes, two new tools promise to bring order by representing media as virtual planets and stars. One works on albums and tracks on the iPad; the other uses computer-aided analysis of loops and samples (not just music) on Windows. One will make your eyeballs pop; one might help you manage gigs of samples for a game design project.

Built in the open-source framework Cinder by an all-star team of media artist-designers (Ben Cerveny, Tom Carden, Jesper Sparre Andersen and Robert Hodgin), Planetary should satisfy space nuts and eye candy lovers. The metaphor is pretty direct: artists are stars, albums are planets around the artists, tracks are moons around the planets, and you can filter “constellations” by letter. That means the actual structure is heavily hierarchical, actually, in the tradition of iTunes (and, before it, its predecessor SoundJam). I’m not sure what happens with, say, compilations. But let’s face it: the real draw is that it’s incredibly beautiful to look at. I’d be just as entertained looking at a visualization of my system folder if it looked this pretty.

For now, Planetary is some fascinating eye candy with at least basic playback capabilities, iPad-only. That brings some good news – Airplay wireless works, and since it makes use of standard media code, even features like scrobbles function. It also brings some bad — while Apple added support for libraries to third-party apps, Home Sharing isn’t included, so you’re limited to what’s on your iPad. Playlists aren’t supported, either. But hook this up to a projector or large screen TV with some of your favorite music, and I don’t think you’ll be complaining. And as a free tool, it’s incredible.

Planetary is available now; free for the iPad. As seen on creativeapplications.
iTunes link

Less pretty, but with greater facilities on the utility side, is the Windows-only Soundtorch. (Thanks to Kristian Gohlke for the tip!) Visually, it offers a similar metaphor: media assets live on a continuous plane. Functionally, though, it’s more algorithmic than hierarchic, using something called the Computer Aided Sound Exploration engine (C.A.S.E.). The set of algorithms, which the creators say were based on evaluation of human listening, performs a sophisticated set of extractions of some 600 features from each sound file.

Rather than limit itself to albums and tracks, C.A.S.E. is tuned for audio files and loops. It’s fast enough that it can plow quickly through gigs of material. So, if you’re on Windows and have amassed an enormous collection of loops, samples, field recordings, sound effects, and the like, Soundtorch will use C.A.S.E. to first map all those relationship, then visualize them. You can use the mouse to produce new collections of assets, map relationships visually, export those relationship to XML, copy sounds to the clipboard, export to WAV, or open them in Windows Explorer. That is, all that eye candy is a genuine interface, not a barrier between you and what you might do (as so often happens with these sorts of experimental interfaces).

In fact, you might argue that, despite outward appearances, Soundtorch is entirely different from Planetary, but they share one common conceptual assumption. Related media “orbit” or attract to common materials. The difference is that Soundtorch is relational. In Soundtorch, if you “magnetize” a file, it – and any similar files – become attracted to attractors called “magnets.”

As is appropriate searching for media, the “torchlight” metaphor shines a light through files. Everything under the light plays back simultaneously, so you don’t have to audition sounds one at a time. (That sounds slightly terrifying to me, but I have to spend more time with it in an actual library.)

The creators describe the magic thusly:

Have you ever listened to a sound and felt that there was a similar one somewhere on your hard disk? And the sound you can’t find would just work so much better right now? Well, Soundtorch also remembers all sounds that you ever listened to. Just select any sound on Soundtorch, and let the system suggest the most similar ones from your whole collection.

In other words, SoundTorch is as much about what you can’t see as what you can – the intelligence to determine similarity behind the scenes. Check out the tech talk in the video above for more information on how “aurally and visually-enhanced audio search” could also apply this technology. More research at:

Soundtorch 2.0 entered a free public beta last week. It was developed in Microsoft’s C#-based XNA framework.

Grab the download:

Finally, if you want to hear the “Optimist” track by Zoe Keating without that voiceover and just enjoy Planetary’s gorgeous visuals, here you go:

From innovation in the visual interface to the intelligence underneath that changes how the computer interprets relationships between files, finally, there’s hope. Music and sound might not forever be trapped in views borrowed from spreadsheets, tables modeled on the needs of accountants 30 years ago.

  • h3e

    check soundtorch 2 for free at

  • Ben Alex

    I'm a proud iPod user, and probably always will be, but I'm beginning to dislike Apple a little. Every american and their cat seems to have a iPad now, but I live in a country (Denmark) where Apple has decided to charge a lot more for their products because we statistically make more money, and because they have decided that Apple should be marketed as a "exclusive" brand for us. This Makes the pricier Apple products borderline stupid investments for most people, despite all the fancy software. So in a way, the most exciting software developments are now quite elitist.

    Maybe a little off topic, but I can't help to think of this every time I see some new "iOS only" software.  

  • Ben Alex,
    That sounds really sucky, I truly empathize. If its any consolation, I don't have an iPad either. Irregardless of which market, the apps themselves seem to appeal to those with more money to throw around, if one is just comparing them to the iphone prices.

  • Redoom

    I Love U CDM!!!!!!

  • Peter Kirn

    @Ben: Because it's developed in Cinder, ports to other platforms – Mac and Windows, for instance – should be possible! (Not sure about Android.)

    I'm not sure greed alone is the reason for higher pricing. First, it tends to be more expensive to sell your goods in European countries, generally, because of additional taxes and shipping. Secondly, there can be an added cost for countries like Denmark that have a strong independent currency. I don't know that that's the case with Apple, of course – have you been able to get, say, Android tablets like the Xoom? Are they similarly expensive, or are they cheaper? (Denmark I know now has the Android Market, though not the Amazon App Store, right?)

    I ask not because I'm trying to defend Apple, but I'm curious as a developer!

    @Redoom: Thanks! 🙂

  • Ben Alex

    @ Kirn I don't know all the specifics. Of course European taxes mean alot, but it's not the whole story. Basicly it's a crappy place to live as a consumer since some larger brands Including Apple choose to overcharge us. As far as I understand a standart iPhone costs  about 200$ in the US? Multiply that by 4 and your are starting enter the Danish price level. And keep in mind that we got the iPad in our shops around the time the iPad 2 was announced!

    Stuff like pc laptops and regular iPods are sensibly priced though because they aren't hip products.

    The only place I've ever seen non apple or amazon tablet apps have been in foreign magazines. The Xoom? nowhere to be found.


  • Kim

    @ Ben Alex

    I live in America and cant afford even a lowly ipod. Hope that makes you feel better.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, this is why I think it's significant that, apart from targeting certain mobile tablets that still represent a small population, developers consider desktop tech and Web tech. 

    For instance, look what's possible now *in the browser* — and this will work on fairly lowly laptops, provided you've upgraded your browser.

    I think the iPad is a reasonable platform to target when you're experimenting with an app, as a developer, as a controlled environment. You'll see in their FAQ that they're considering other platforms. Cinder is certainly capable of deploying to Mac and Windows; some can even add Linux, etc., and it's increasingly easy to port OpenGL projects to WebGL variants.

    XNA meanwhile runs across a wide, wide variety of inexpensive Windows PCs.

    So, consider that part of what's happening on these mobile platforms is experimentation. Hopefully some will consider the cross-platform experience, too.

  • Kim

    If you are using a small SSD as your C drive on windows be careful with SoundTorch. I had 3gbs of space on it and after running soundtorch 0 gb. The install didn't seem to allow you to select a different drive so beware that this program may force you to clean up after it.

  • Kim

    If you do end up needing to clean up you can use WinDirStat here It is free and very useful it gives you a visual overview of the files on your drive and helps you save time due to its ease of use.

  • Peter Kirn

    Kim, that was just with its metadata? How much media were you searching?

  • Kim

    @Peter Lol 12tb

  • Kim

    @peter However when it filled up I was only searching 1.25 GB

  • Kim

    Ok sorry for a bunch of posts but to be clear Soundtorch filled my C drive when searching 1.24gb it did however cleanup its own files either after shutting it down or on uninstall Im not sure what one? I installed it on a separate computer and it is now chugging through 12tb of data but I can see that the C drive here is also taking a hit so we will see how it deals with enormous sample libraries.

  • Peter Kirn

    Actually, I wonder what happens if you don't have the XNA framework installed… that could be the file usage. 😉

  • peter s

    shouldn't this be an infinitely-dimensional universe in order to represent the different ways (planes) of finding similarities between sounds? I mean COME ON.

  • h3e

    Soundtorch extracts temporary audio data for all icons on the canvas. It should clean up when closing or removing items from the canvas. Use for q&a on features and bugs of soundtorch.

  • leakeg

    soundtorch seems like an amazing idea… no more painfully renaming hundreds of samples…alas my external sound card seems to be confusing it and I can't get any sound!

  • Steph

    Last year at the Develop game conference in Brighton, a guy from Sony showed what they were doing with audio analysis and they were using a similar system already to browse their sound effects database (in addition to some really really cool sample dialog box). What was nice was that it really looked like a geological map of your database.