Club Beats Might Actually Be Secret Codes


In the future when you break it down in the club to your favorite tunes, they might be transmitting secret messages to you within all that thump thump.

Krzysztof Szczypiorski, a professor of telecommunications at the Warsaw University of Technology, has developed a new form of musical steganography that can be embedded within dance music. Named in honor of the most clubtastic place on Earth, Ibiza, Steglbiza aims to make that umph-umph-umph something more.

Steganography is the art and science of hiding the existence of a message within a larger body of data. Think of it as invisible ink for the digital age: Hiding messages in plain sight has been something that’s been done for centuries, but with the growth of computational power, it only makes sense that secret notes will go digital. And in case you think it’s just a weird isolated community of nerds who are into steganography: As of 2010, there were 600 different computational steganography programs.

Szczypiorski’s is the first steganography program that is specifically designed to exploit the trance-like rhythms of dance music. Here’s how it works: The tempo of the music is varied so it can encode information. It’s a lot like Morse code, spelling out a message with dots and dashes — except here, a dash translates to speeding up a tempo for a single beat; a dot slows the tempo down.

In probably the chillest lab experiment ever, an open-air summer party was the setting for testing Steglbiza. The subjects — ten who were musicians and ten who were not — listened to covers of popular songs that contained the secret message, “Steganography is a dancer!”

“All original covers were prepared without any vocal parts and arranged in techno, hip-hop, or trance styles with the instruments available in Logic X Pro,” Szczypiorski told the MIT Technology Review.

He noticed that the subjects could tell the difference in tempo when he changed it by more than three percent, but couldn’t if the change was less than two percent. This means that if musicians are trying to send their fans secret messages with StegIbiza, their remixes will have to be different enough for people to actually notice.

Will DJs actually start to use StegIbiza to communicate with people? Who knows, but it would be the perfect way for Calvin Harris to send out some shady messages out to his ex without having to resort to Twitter.