Peter Gabriel Saves Arbitron

Speaking of PG, today’s Times Magazine looks at the next wave of television ratings technology.

In the course of his brainstorming in the early 1990’s, Kolessar and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the best way to capture an individual’s media exposure was to bury a unique, repeating, inaudible digital code in the audio tracks of every radio or television channel in the country; the P.P.M. would recognize that code.

So Kolessar began to work on psychoacoustic masking, which places a signal just beneath the frequency of whatever is being transmitted. As Kolessar and his team worked through years of frustration, they discovered that the masked code’s frequency could not be too low (where it would run into technical problems) or too high (where it would bother dogs and cats). Nor could it even modestly compromise the audio quality of a show or a song. “We used ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ for a while for our tests, but then I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Kolessar said. So he switched to “Don’t Give Up,” the Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush duet from Gabriel’s album So. The song is an intricate work of sonic architecture (of some 26 separate tracks, according to Kolessar), which made it a challenge for the engineers. Kolessar led me into Arbitron’s sound studio to listen to what his team came up with after a decade. He cranked a recording of the Gabriel song through a pair of $20,000 speakers and switched back and forth between coded and uncoded versions. “You can’t tell the difference,” he said.

Sorry no psychoacoustic masking on this one, but feel free to enjoy on $20k speakers.
Peter Gabriel w/ Kate Bush – “Don’t Give Up”
Willie Nelson w/ Sinead O’Connor – “Don’t Give Up”

Don’t miss Big Willie’s scene-stealing role as Jesse in this summer’s Dukes Of Hazzard movie. On set he spent his downtime getting stoned in his trailer and giving Jessica Simpson pedicures (not really).