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Summary:

The success of Pandora’s public offering underscores the popularity of online music, and the thousands of ways you can listen to tracks online. But how many can claim to be as fun as new virtual turntable setup Wheels of Steel?

Wheels of Steel

Wheels of SteelYeah, yeah, you like music. You probably listen to quite a lot, tuning in to the things you like with Rdio, or letting the music take control by turning on Pandora. Maybe you find out the latest sounds by following the Hype Machine, or even listen to it with your friends through a service like Turntable.fm. But however much you like music and however you listen to it, you probably can’t do this.

Wheels of Steel is a fun app that allows you to play with a fully functioning set of turntables online — loading up records, dropping the needle, manipulating the vinyl, using volume controls, faders, equalizers and pitch controls. You can switch between 33RPM and 45. You can mix, beat match… you can even scratch yourself silly. Pick your tracks by entering the relevant Soundcloud URL, or plugging in the specific URL of the MP3 you want, and then go crazy.

And the most amazing thing? It’s built entirely in HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

The man behind this piece of genius is Flickr engineer Scott Schiller, an audio nerd who previously developed Sound Manager, an API that lets you play audio online, through JavaScript, without worrying about the usual hassles (Sound Manager is, unsurprisingly, used to power Wheels of Steel).

For anyone wondering exactly how it works, Schiller has written a blog post giving an incredibly detailed look at how it was put together. The post details every aspect of the build, and explains how all the different options and physics were designed and assembled.

Ultimately, it’s all intended as a bit of fun produced by somebody who was clearly dedicated to building virtual turntables. The actual build took 12 weeks, but he admits that he’s been interested in doing this for “years”. But it’s a great demonstration of what is now possible by using the basic toolkits of the web.

The prototype is an experimental bit of web audio fun, stamped with a number of warning labels and is not intended for pro or “skratch” DJs as frankly, it will quickly disappoint — and what DJ really wants to scratch records with a mouse, anyway. ;)

We now have digital toys and things that allow music to be manipulated in ways never imagined before — and yet, there remains something special and meaningful about the old, scratchy, dusty sound of analog mediums and the hands-on, real physical experience of mixing music that digital technology — this HTML experiment included — still aims to match.

Great stuff.

  1. This is of questionable usefulness. But the programming and art work involved in this project is the true beauty of it.

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