My experience with a crazy person.

crazy-manA man has been impersonating me on Twitter with a spoof account he created to punish me. This has, regrettably, affected a number of friends and professional colleagues, and I am trying to stop it. (Twitter has a policy prohibiting impersonation intended to deceive others, and I have reported the spoof. So far, they are still allowing it.) [UPDATE: On the morning of March 5, Twitter finally suspended the spoof account.]

Several people I know have inquired about the story behind this, so I am publishing the entire wretched debacle here.

It began when this man (to whom I will refer as Crazy Person, not his actual name) sent a message to my Berklee email account. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize he was mentally ill (although in hindsight the clues are obvious)…

Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 11:06 am

Hi Chad,

I have developed a software which remotely improves any music source and recording. We have tested it between Europe and Australia with the participation of mastering engineer [name omitted for privacy]. He mixed a track after I turned my sound engine on my laptop on, then sent me the original and the bounced tracks. I can clearly hear the improvements made by my sound engine. But, for some reason [the mastering engineer] says he is unable to hear a difference.

I need a second opinion. Could you please visit my website and listen to the both tracks? If you are able to hear the difference I’m hearing, I can post your comment on my site.

We can also conduct the same test at your convenience.

My website link:

[URL omitted for privacy]

Best Regards,

[Crazy Person]

As a publicly visible member of the Berklee faculty, I receive requests like this fairly often from fellow audio professionals and others looking for input, evaluation, or other support for media products and services, textbooks, etc. — so the inquiry was not unusual, nor the specious description of his software.

Although I was dubious, I felt I was in a position to act helpfully as a peer and a representative of the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee. So I made my first mistake (and not my last): treating him seriously. I visited his website, evaluated the audio samples and replied.

Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:10 pm

I was immediately skeptical (as I imagine most in my field would be) of your claim that your software “remotely improves any music source and recording.” This bears a distinct similarity to the many snake-oil products and processes that have been marketed over the years to magically “improve” audio recordings through unspecified, proprietary processes. Two important principles:

1.) “Improvement” is entirely subjective. (What does the software aim to “improve”? Why is this improvement needed?)
2.) In my line of work, one typically does everything possible to maintain the integrity of one’s recorded work. I would not consent to having anything I’ve recorded changed by some mysterious process, even if it is claimed to “improve” the sound.

I did some critical listening and analyses of the two samples on your site. Although the processed audio is demonstrably different, it shows no signs of subjective improvement that I can detect. I could not reliably tell any difference by listening. An A-minus-B test (I captured the audio from both players, brought the recordings into Pro Tools, aligned the waveforms, and inverted polarity on one) reveals that the two are not identical, but little more of value. There is a rapid modulation in the difference audio that may be indicative of reclocking, or artifacts of the lossy compression, or both…or something else.

My conclusion, frankly, is that the process doesn’t deliver any quantifiable benefit, and that whatever alteration it does perform would be undesirable in any imaginable context. I’m sorry I don’t have anything more encouraging to report to you.

Best of luck,

c.

In my experience, people in the audio profession tend to appreciate critical thinking and research. Truth claims about the effects and performance of audio products are happily evaluated through empirical analysis and subjective listening. Even if the results are not what the developer hoped for, they are usually received with grace and gratitude.

I had done a bit of analysis and a bit of listening, found nothing compelling, and reported back. Foolishly, I thought that would be the end of it.

But…

Wed, Feb 18, 2015 at 4:03 am

Hi Chad,

Thank you very much for visiting my site and testing the two tracks. At least now I have a 2nd opinion on my intercontinental test that it was successful; my sound engine activated on my laptop here in Europe affected the track [the mastering engineer] bounced in Australia.

This itself alone is a huge accomplishment for science. As any scientific invention, I have no doubt this will lead into new inventions in the future, such as communication between computers and phones without the internet connection. I have read in the news recently that Japanese scientists managed to teleport a single electron from one computer to another. My invention is way ahead of them. I managed to teleport (I never liked this word) my entire sound engine from one continent to another and successfully affected a recording in real time. I think this should be in the news and maybe you can help me, because only a few people know about it. Since you are a well know recording engineer and musician, and also a faculty member at Berklee, people of the world will respect your findings. I’m also a musician myself. I compose new age style electronic music.

I will be grateful if you and me conduct the same test at your convenience. This time on a better sounding track in Wave format. Ideally, it can be perfect if you apply my sound engine (I will activate it here and keep it active all day) to a track you are mastering, with the same settings as the unprocessed one. The sound engine I used for our first test with [the mastering engineer] had a parametric EQ. The current version is plain but more powerful. We should be able to get a bigger difference between the tracks.

Best Regards,

[Crazy]

baffledAt this point, I became concerned. Crazy Person had taken the one bit of my message that was interesting to him (an apparent but unspecific difference between the two audio recordings) and declared success, and I certainly didn’t want credit for verifying his “huge accomplishment for science.” His hyperbolic statement of triumph was also my first real clue that I was dealing with someone who might be a little… unhinged.

(In my alarm I failed to realize that he was describing a process that would work between computers not connected to one another over the internet — an idea so preposterous I hadn’t even considered it.)

I replied:

Wed, Feb 18, 2015 at 8:29 am

Let me be more clear: My opinion is not that your test was successful. The success or failure of your test is not an opinion I can render, because you have still not expressed to me clearly what it is that your “sound engine” is supposed to do.

All I can say with any certainty is that the two audio files presented on your site are not identical. It is my professional opinion that this is almost never desirable. I cannot imagine any circumstances under which I would want something I am working on to be changed along the way, by someone else, operating software with no clearly defined function. I repeat: In my line of work, one typically does everything possible to maintain the integrity of one’s recorded work.

Let me ask you directly: What does this product of yours actually aim to do? What function does it perform that is different from existing processes and methods? Why is it needed?

Unless you can answer those questions clearly, revealing a compelling purpose and usefulness of your software that is currently escaping me, I have no further interest.

Thanks,

c.

I was split, you see. I shouldn’t have asked. But the supposed function of the software was still not clear to me, and it seemed to be promising something that was, at best, completely unnecessary. Part of me wanted more answers, while another part was eager to make a polite exit from the conversation.

Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 6:11 am

Hi Chad,

Initially I developed my software for my own use, mainly to improve the sound quality of my Hi-Fi system. It’s based on my invention in hardware electronic circuits. I have implemented it into a software.

To improve, I mean better. As Naim Audio founder Julian Vereker once said: ”If it sounds better, it is better”.

I have my software installed on my phone and its performing amazing things on my Hi-Fi. In addition to weighty, very deep bass, the treble response is equally extended, detailed, crisp but sweet. The soundstage is also widened. These all are the signs showing me that my software is making my Hi-Fi equipment perform better. That was also my goal. Of course nothing artificial is added, otherwise it wouldn’t sound this good.

Since my software installed on my phone acts like a remote preamp in a way, if people with big systems and active subwoofers use my sound engine, they can benefit greatly.

The benefit for engineers and producers would be that they don’t have to install anything on their computers and they don’t need to open it as an effect in their sequencer window. If they like what my software does (basically it’s an expander), they can activate it on their phone or laptop during mixing and use it in addition to any other effect they use.

If you listen to music at home, in your studio or in your car, You can test it by keeping my software active on your phone for few days. I will give you free membership to my site.

Best,
[Crazy]

I still held the assumption, at this point, that he was talking about a process that would run between two computers connected across the internet. Audio is sent from a user’s computer, is processed by software on a remote computer, and is returned to the original computer. This is perfectly feasible, and products of this description exist.

But Crazy Person’s software process — and what change it would effect — remained undefined and of questionable value. I decided I would try, one last time, to relate a few principles of value to audio engineers, and to make a graceful exit.

Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 10:47 am

I appreciate your note. Allow to me to voice a few objections, which I intend to be helpful:

1.) When I finish a record, the final product is exactly what I and my clients want it to be. The bass is exactly as deep and weighty as it should be. The soundstage is exactly as wide; the high frequencies exactly as detailed, crisp, and sweet as they should be. Deeper, heavier bass, or a wider soundstage, or more “extended” treble response, would not be a desirable improvement to the work we have carefully crafted — only an arbitrary and unwanted change. “Better” in audio is not nearly so simple to define as you seem to believe.

2.) It’s true that many playback systems have room for improvement. Software processing that aims to improve the sound of a playback system is not necessarily a bad idea (and quite a few products like that already exist). But, again, “improvement” in this regard is completely subjective; what sounds “better” to you might sound “worse” to another listener. “Wider soundstage,” “extended low frequency response” and other such seemingly desirable traits found in the marketing of hi-fi systems and the myriad products that promise to “improve” them, are similarly arbitrary — not objectives that are absolutely and universally valued. Consider the question: Is there a limit to how wide one would like one’s soundstage to be, or is a wider soundstage always better? Can it be too wide? Can the bass be too deep and heavy? (I hope you agree the answer is “yes.”) If your software “improves” any audio, why not process the audio twice? Or 100 times? How much “improvement” is too much?

3.) If in fact there were a digital audio process that could deliver a universal improvement to any audio on any playback system, that might be valuable. But based on my listening, which was done in a proper studio on two different sets of very respectable studio monitors, your software doesn’t cause any noticeable improvement at all. What it does might be best described as damage to the integrity of the original sound. Not a good cost/benefit relationship…

To sum up: You might possibly have a good idea (possibly), but you don’t yet have a product that’s interesting to me.

So I wish you good luck. Thank you for sharing your idea and for the thought-provoking conversation.

Best,

c.

Although I thought my closing sentences clearly indicated I sought to end the conversation, Crazy Person soon replied:

Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 7:22 am

Hi Chad,

Thank you for your valuable arguments. Of course I agree on most of the points you have raised. I’m a composer and dedicated audiophile myself. That said, I disagree with your claim that my software damages music. It would not even be possible. I explained you already what my software does: it remotely makes the hardware circuits (any circuits or even wires that run electrons in it) perform better. In music the return is more transparent reproduction of music.

In fact, a virtual copy of my software simultaneously exists at every space-time dimension in the universe. It’s working on your hardware as I write this email. If you are monitoring or mixing music, my sound engine is already affecting it, the resulting sound will be permanently captured in your mixes whether you (or your clients) like or it or not (sorry). But, I am sure you like the results, because you are working to make your mixes to sound good. 🙂

So, my sound engine is already universal, optimized to get the best out of any hardware in the world. Ideally, it should be installed on a dedicated server, maintained and accessed by only me. Because, when somebody navigates through the pages of my website, I can hear here that the loudness level (and the dynamic/frequency range) on my Hi-Fi setup is going up and down. I’m sure you will agree with me that this is not desirable and even annoying. Because, if you (or any other engineer) are mixing music, the recording being made at that particular time will capture it permanently.

To prevent this unwanted side effect, I have come up with this solution. I can take my software off my site and install it on a server. I will not distribute or sell my software. Only a handful of people has a copy of the earlier version of my software, such as the Stereophile editor [name omitted] and [name omitted] at the PSP Audio. I can ask them not to use it and permanently delete it.

But, I need a steady income. This is what I have envisaged: Let’s say an international organization such as UNICEF can fund the expenses of my work and the dedicated server which I will maintain, maybe in collaboration with Berklee. On this project, you can also act as an adviser.

Finally, I didn’t see your email as a member on my site. In order to test my software, you will need to signup and enter the Gold Members page. My software will only be active there. So, please give it a serious audition this weekend, ideally on your home audio system, because you will notice if there is a change in the way your system sounds.

Best,
[Crazy]

Businessman-overwhelmedOkay.

UNICEF funding?

Virtual copies at every space-time dimension in the universe?

I finally realized I had been grossly misallocating the benefit of the doubt. I was conversing with a crazy person. He was convinced he had developed software capable of doing something impossible, and I had been engaged in a serious discussion with him about it.

I wrote a final, polite farewell.

Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 1:57 pm

As I’m sure you’ve heard before, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you can provide empirical evidence supporting your claims, then I’m certain you’ll have no trouble turning your invention into a successful business.

For my part, I remain unconvinced. So I repeat: I am not interested. But I wish you good luck and thank you for your time.

Kind regards,

c.

I hoped that would do it. Still, Crazy Person persisted:

Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 4:57 am

Hi Chad,

I appreciate your skepticism about my software installed on my phone and computer affecting you recordings over there. But, it is based on physics laws and I have the tracks to prove it to you.

Yesterday, we repeated our intercontinental test with [mastering engineer]. I turned my software on my phone and PC on. He bounced a rhythm track that I had prepared. This is the link to the Wav track he sent me (Mixdown):

[URL omitted]

Last night, I turned my phone and PC off before I went to sleep. It was morning there when [mastering engineer] bounced my original track, this time nothing affecting it. This is the link to that track (Mixdown 3).

[URL omitted]

I downloaded both files and compared Mixdown, to Mixdown 3:

The difference is not just in the overall loudness. The Mixdown sounds like there is a band really going for it.

In addition to more robust, authoritative and tuneful bass, the string cords are more expressive and each note is clear.

The arpeggiated syth on the Mixdown 3 sounds like computer generic music. On the Mixdown, it sounds like real funky style playing. High hats also sound more realistic.

When I turned my phone and PC off last night, Mixdown 3 became more dynamically flat.

I’m sure you will realize that if my software can make this much difference from Europe to Melbourne- Australia, Boston is even closer to London. It’s where I live.

In other words, my software is affecting your music over there without you knowing it.

Best Regards,
[Crazy]

Strike three.  My patience exhausted, I sent one last message.

Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 11:42 am

[Crazy Person],

Your last sentence would be profoundly creepy, if it were even slightly credible. Do you understand why?

I will tell you one final time: I am not interested in your technological breakthrough that improves all musical sounds and performances everywhere in the universe using magic physics.

Any further email you send me will be automatically deleted.

Thank you and best of luck,

c.

I admit the mockery in my final message was not very subtle, and that I probably should have been more kind to him. But, I felt, by then he had it coming.

I did not anticipate that he would respond like this:

Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 3:10 am

C or Chad or whateves,

UR A [expletive omitted] U KNOW THAT. IVE BEEN TRYING TO BE NICE TO YOU BUT I CAN PUT U IN PLACE.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH U? UR DRUG ADDICT [expletive] MOM DIDNT SHOW U ENOUGH LOVE?
U THINK UR A HOT SHOT OR SOMETHING, BUT UR JUST A LOSER. WE ALL KNOW THAT PPL WHO FAIL IN THE REAL WORLD GETS COLLEGE JOBS HAHA
I HAVE SOME SNAKE OIL TO [expletive] DO U WANT SOME? [expletive] IGNORANT [expletive]

This message was followed by several more of similar composition and sentiment, from multiple email accounts, describing in lurid ALL CAPS detail my shortcomings as an audio professional and the specific nature of Crazy Person’s romantic history with my mother, complete with illustrative photographs of other people engaged in the activities described, and who knows what other idiot filth. Happily, spam filters made quick work of keeping further abuse out of my inbox. But the sudden shift of tone and the extreme hostility now on display was breathtaking. The Twitter impersonation soon followed, and I learned that my friends, colleagues and a number of students were receiving idiotic, obscene messages from “me.”

“Don’t feed the trolls” — so goes the prevailing wisdom. It’s tempting to reply to Crazy Person, asking him to stop. It’s tempting to point out that I was exceptionally patient and generous with him and that his invective is unwarranted. It’s very tempting to tell him that the two audio files in his second test are exactly the same, bit for bit, and that the differences he described — “authoritative and more tuneful bass,” “more expressive” strings, “real funky style playing” — are absolutely not there (and not even possible). But I’ve made my mistakes, and I’ve learned my lesson:

There’s just no talking to some people.

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