I think this is just the tip of the iceberg:
From Wired News, available online at:
Hey, Who's That Face in My Song?
By Leander Kahney
2:00 a.m. May 10, 2002 PDT
Back in the old days of vinyl records, pop groups like The Beatles and
Black Sabbath were accused of sneaking satanic messages into songs,
which could only be heard when the music was played backward.
Now it seems one of the world's most popular electronic musicians has
discovered the modern digital equivalent.
Aphex Twin, who has been described as "the most inventive and
influential figure in contemporary electronic music," appears to have
sneaked the digital image of a devilish face into at least one of his
The spooky image of a creature with a diabolical grin has been
accidentally discovered on Aphex Twin's Windowlicker EP, a 1999 hit.
The sinister face is revealed when the song is played on a computer
through special software that visualizes sound waves.
Just like the backward messages on vinyl LPs, the face is secretly
encoded in the actual sound waves of the music. It isn't a separate
file on the CD. The image is the aural equivalent of steganography:
the practice of hiding secret messages and watermarks in images.
The existence of the image has not been publicized by Aphex Twin or
his record label.
It seems to have been discovered accidentally by an electronic
musician who calls himself Chaos Machine. Chaos Machine wasn't
available for an interview, but according to his website, he was
playing around with WinAmp one evening when he spotted the diabolical
His discovery can be reproduced with a sample of the song and some
spectrographic software, which displays the different frequencies of
the song as a graph against time. The image doesn't appear in an MP3
file of the song; the compression algorithm destroys the image.
Chaos Machine's discovery is starting to make the rounds on the
Internet, and is fast becoming part of the folklore surrounding
hidden messages in pop music.
But it appears Chaos Machine was a bit too quick off the mark. The
song does indeed contain the image of a face, but not a demonic one.
It's Aphex Twin himself -- or Richard James, as he's known to his
The real image was discovered by a 19-year-old named Jarmo Niinisalo,
who tweaked the settings in his spectrographic software to reveal
James' grinning fizzog. The procedure is described on Niinisalo's
Niinisalo also discovered three more pattern-like images embedded in
songs on the Windowlicker EP. None of them is sinister.
James apparently created the hidden pictures in his songs using a
clever piece of synthesizer software called MetaSynth.
MetaSynth is a Mac-only application that can take any image and
generate sounds from it. The software was widely used in The Matrix
to accompany the movie's mind-bending bullet-speed special effects.
Most musicians who use the application input abstract pictures because
they can generate meaningful sounds. Scanned photographs tend to
create a kind of discordant, metallic scratching. The program's
creator, Eric Wenger, ran pictures of factories through it for some
industrial techno compositions.
However they sound, images are readily recreated by running the sounds
they generate through any spectrograph software.
Edward Spiegel, the product director of U&I Software, the San
Francisco Bay Area company that publishes MetaSynth, said most of
Aphex Twin's Windowlicker was created in MetaSynth.
"It's definitely MetaSynth," he said. "I know (James) uses the
software. He's mentioned it in a number of interviews, and he wrote
Eric a fan letter a number of years ago."
The Windowlicker EP also contains a number of telltale sound effects
that are difficult to create in other synthesizer packages, Spiegel
said. However, Spiegel wasn't aware of the images embedded in the
James couldn't be contacted for an interview, but his face has become
his trademark image. Although he's somewhat reclusive, James has used
warped images of his smiling face in many of his videos and CD cover
art. He gained notoriety a few years ago for a video depicting a gang
of feral kids menacing old ladies. The entire gang sported his face
superimposed on their bodies. The sleeve of Windowlicker shows the
body of a buxom bikini-clad beach babe with James' grinning, bearded
face Photoshopped on top.
It seems James is one of the first mainstream musicians to embed
images in his music. Spiegel was unaware of any other examples in
It would be difficult, however, for the technique to be used by
"It doesn't sound a lot like music," commented Joshua Schachter, who
runs Memepool, one of the first websites to publicize the discovery.
"More conventional artists like Britney Spears would have some
trouble hiding this."
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