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Digital Futures Initiative goes to Dr. Sam Whiting and team

Media Published Tuesday 13 June 2023
L-R: Dr. Sam Whiting, Dr. Susannah Emery, John Oestmann

Congratulations Dr. Sam Whiting, Dr. Susannah Emery and composer John Oestmann.

The Adelaide team will explore the potential of automation for composers and musicians in games music.

The $20,000 initiative delivered by the Australia Council for the Arts and APRA AMCOS, connects Australian music and new technology.

A research team led by University of South Australia's Dr. Sam Whiting will explore the potential of automation for composers and musicians in games music, with funding support from the Digital Futures Initiative. The $20,000 grant is provided in partnership by music rights management organisation APRA AMCOS and the Australia Council for the Arts.

Now in its second year, the Digital Futures Initiative supports projects at the intersection of Australian music and new technology and aims to increase audiences for Australian music, establish a critical base of knowledge and develop new ideas within innovative distribution platforms.

A Lecturer in Creative Industries, Dr. Whiting is a leading researcher in cultural policy and creative industries specifically the intersection between technology, markets and creativity. His research experience includes work with the SA Music Development Office, Live Music Office, City of Melbourne and more.

The team of Dr. Whiting, Dr. Susannah Emery, Game & Narrative Designer and Lecturer of Game Design & Digital Media at UniSA, and John Oestmann, composer for the Adelaide-developed indie game 'Rooftop Renegade', will create a video game using Epic's Unreal Engine's new MetaSounds tool.

Project overview:

In today’s world of new frontiers in automation and generative AI, artists are left wondering whether this automation is their friend or foe. Musical automation has the potential to make significant contributions in empowering composers and musicians - but the question relates to “how?”. While much of the current discussion has been on generative AI in design and text-based communication, musical automation contains a huge amount of potential, with most of the R&D in this area having been developed by the film industry. Musical automation in games, however, could make a significant contribution in empowering composers and musicians.

This project will produce a video game in which all audio is generated live, from scratch, by a human-designed digital synthesis system. This audio will change and adapt, based on the actions of the human playing the game. The design framework, developments, and critical reflections will be shared freely to empower other composers who are excited to create in this unfolding space, and contemporary industry research will provide important context for the creative project.

“It’s very exciting that APRA AMCOS and the Australia Council are supporting music creators working with emerging technologies. The opportunity to research generative musical automation at a time when the technology has just taken a giant leap forward with the release of Unreal Engine’s new MetaSounds is an incredibly important and significant one," said Whiting.

"One of our biggest goals with this project is to develop knowledge to freely empower other music-makers keen to explore this unfolding space. Being able to do this alongside the creation of our own game that will road test and demonstrate this new technology means that our research will have a tangible impact with real-world outcomes.”

The Australian interactive games industry is expanding rapidly, with IGEA's 2022 Survey showing almost 60% employment growth and revenue of $284 million, an increase of 26% over the previous year. Support from the Federal Government’s Digital Games Tax Offset (DGTO) delivers an important boost to games development, which includes the music and audio that soundtracks a player's experience.

"We are pleased to partner with APRA AMCOS to deliver this project. It complements a research project into Australian music in the gaming industry (The Australian Music in Games Benchmark 2023) that we have engaged Queensland University of Technology to undertake, which will be used to identify opportunities to increase and professionalise Australian creators and music businesses that produce music in games," said Australia Council Head of Music Kirsty Rivers.

"Australian composers and sound creators play a vital role in the local games industry and we want to ensure they are at the forefront of games audio technology. APRA AMCOS, together with the Australian Council, is proud to support Sam, Susannah and John's project through the Digital Futures Initiative and look forward to the outcome and its impact," said Chris O’Neill, Director, Engagement and Stakeholder Management, APRA AMCOS.

Last year's recipients were musician Sally Coleman, for her work on virtual band Big Sand, and RMIT's Dr. Ian Rogers, who is doing work that helps Australian artists collaborate on NFTs.