Lifehouse method

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I worked with Pete Townshend and Lawrence Ball to create a realisation of Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse concept and also "the method" as described in Pete’s "The Boy Who Heard Music". Pete was responsible for the vision, Lawrence provided the music direction and I did almost everything else (managing the project and the 99% of the programming). Fleur Richards from Net Design did the graphic design and a couple of developers from Net Design produced the Flash applets for sound selection and "clicking a rhythm." Finally, Javier Sepúlveda produced the Java applet used to record audio from within a web user interface.

Since was shut down earlier this year and the wikipedia article doesn’t have that much detail I thought it was time to write a bit more about the project. Due to contractual constraints I can’t say much about how the system worked but I can at least show what it was like to use.

The home page started out with a Flash applet that let you play snippets of Who tracks but it was never really related to the method itself and it got replaced by a news page after a few months.

(PNG) home

After logging in (registration was free) you were presented with a page listing music you’d already composed (if any) and allowing you to "sit" for more - Pete likened the composition process to sitting for a painted portrait and so users of the site were referred to as "sitters."

Sitter home

The first step was just a page giving some information about the portrait process.

Portrait intro

The next page checked that the browser supported Javascript and Java. Originally we also tested for the quicktime plugin but this got dropped after a while since the use of Flash made it unncessary.

I wish now that we’d handled this in a different way - checking for Javascript as soon as people entered the site and minimising the process that people had to go through every time they "sat" for a "portrait."

Browser test page

The portrait process involved given the system an sample of a voice, an image, a sound and a rhythm. I was instructed to make the system as much like "the method" in "The Boy Who Heard Music" as possible so that explains the rather odd input to the system. Since we did not want to limit the use of the system to musicians we did not use the sound, voice or rhythm in the generated music but used digital signal processing to extract information about the input that was used to create the music.

The first real stage of the portrait process was to record a sample of your voice - you could skip this step if you didn’t have a microphone. Originally, we planned to provide a set of male and female sampled voices so people without the ability to record audio could choose the voice that they liked best - however, Pete hated the idea after listening to some demo recordings and so we just made the system capable of working without a voice sample.

Record voice

The next step was to upload an image. I’d wanted to provide an easy way to grab images from the sitter’s flickr photostream if they had a flickr account but never found the time to do this.

Upload image

In case not everyone had an image to upload, we also allowed people to select 1-3 images from 20 randomly selected images out of a total of 100 that Ghene Snowdon created.

Select image

After uploading or selecting an image it was time to record a sound - this worked as for recording the voice but this time we provided alternatives for people who weren’t able to record a sound or upload a sound file.

Record sound

We tried to make selecting a sound as fun as possible - we presented them as a 10x5 grid (a Flash applet). Moving the mouse over a sound would cause it to play in a loop. Clicking on a sound would select it. The last three sounds selected were highlighted in red and these were used as the sound input to the composition.

Select sound 1

The sound grid with some sounds selected.

Select sound 2

The final step was to record a rhythm - this could be done by recording the sitter clapping or banging something using the java applet, uploading a sound file or "clicking a rhythm" using the mouse.

Record rhythm

This screen showed a Flash applet that would record the relative time between mouse clicks allowing the user to create a rhythm by clicking the mouse and play it back before finally deciding to save it.

Tap rhythm

At this point the system had everything it needed and the sitter got to see this page while the system was doing its stuff.


Finally, the music is ready and the sitter can listen to it by clicking on the big red play button. Rather than producing MIDI files and leaving the playback quality dependent on whatever sampled instruments were present on the sitter’s computer’s sound card we went to quite a lot of effort to ensure good quality playback. Steve Hills created some new instruments in SoundFont2 format and these were used to generate MP3 files. The software was also capable of panning instruments to separate them in stereo "space" and choosing a volume level for each instrument in an attempt to make the end result as good as possible. A later, experimental, version of the system also used compression.

Listen was officially launched at Pete Townshend’s Oceanic studios on 25th April 2007. John Pidgeon "sat" for his musical portrait in front of about 20 journalists. After listening to the portrait composed for John Pidgeon the audience got to listen to a remix of another John Pidgeon piece by Myles Clarke.

Pete Townshend introducing the event and giving some of the history behind Lifehouse

Pete Townshend
Photo by G. Snowdon

John Pidgeon listening to the music the system has composed for him.

John Pidgeon
Photo by G. Snowdon

Lawrence, Pete and John taking questions from the audience

Lawrence, Pete and John take questions
Photo by G. Snowdon

Some of the audience

Photo by G. Snowdon

Here are a few examples of music that the system composed for me (click on the triangles to play):

If you can see this then Flash is probably not enabled on your web browser Tune #1
If you can see this then Flash is probably not enabled on your web browser Tune #2
If you can see this then Flash is probably not enabled on your web browser Tune #3

You can also find some more music produced by at the Lifehouse group on

The servers were shut down in June 2008 and the only thing remaining at that URL is a page saying the site is no longer operational.

At the time we produced the portrait process seemed OK and we did not have time to do anything better. I’d always hoped to go back once the site was launched an re-do the interface to make it more streamlined. For what it’s worth here’s a list of some of the things I was planning to implement that never saw the light of day because the site was shut down before I finished them:

  • the ability for people to allow others to listen to their music
  • a flickr-like way for people to comment on music
  • a way to see & hear the inputs used to create a piece of music and to see a representation of how saw those same inputs (ie a visualisation of the data extracted from them).

Update: 27/11/2011:It was Steve Hills, not Myles Clarke, who created the Soundfont2 files. Sorry Steve! Myles was involved in all other aspects of the project related to audio production.

Update: 5/02/2012:Lawrence Ball has an album, Method Music, released by Navona Records Visit to visit the album's mini-site for the liner notes, extra media, and more. The album is also available on Amazon UK and US


If I'm correct, it sounded

If I'm correct, it sounded like you wanted to put the site back online with some added changes, I wholeheartedly agree. I didn't get to find out about the "Method" until very recently, and I never got a chance to "sit". If you do put it back up, I would be eternally grateful, but I understand the way Mr. Townshend feels about it I think: he thinks he has done all he can with the project. But thank you for putting up this article that way I could get some more information about the "Method".

The original idea was for it

The original idea was for it to stay on-line and evolve into more of a community focussed place. However, Pete Townshend felt he'd achieved his artistic objectives and thought it was time to move on. Since Pete Townshend owns all the rights to the Lifehouse Method software only he can decide whether it will ever be re-activated.

For my part, it was a great project to be involved with and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work on it. It wasn't perfect by any means but it was a lot of fun.

I myself have come to the

I myself have come to the site obviously too late. I also would love to see the site re-opened. This concept is very interesting and although Pete might think that he has gained everything from this already, there are always new things to be learned. Peter is a very talented musician and is one of my very big influences over the years. If at all possible, please try to re-open the site, even if it is just a copy but fully working. That would be great. People need to see this project and have a chance to fully enjoy its benefits.
JP @ Notika Musik

I too wish to see this

I too wish to see this re-opened. I first checked the site one month before it started. The next time I checked, it had closed two months prior. As someone who has had a constant passion for music, the idea of a musical portrait really appealed to me. A chance to see me in song form. The aspects to explore, as seen here, are phenomenal. I'm curious whether it would be possible to publish the software.
Now that I see some stirrings from the creators, it gives me hope that this won't just die out. Funny; I only noticed today that "Fragments" was made using the software. (It only took me two years!) I've heard other samples of this music on youtube, and they sound amazing!
Whatever happens, I want to thank you for helping to bring such an unique idea to life, and showing that it works! Oh, the possibilities...

I'm eternally grateful to

I'm eternally grateful to Pete for his contributions to the world, and to my life. I also hope that he will reopen the web site, to allow others to participate, and also to see how changes in people over time influence their inner music, and perhaps to see if world events affect their music.

Thank you.

There are so many references to this on Wikipedia - thanks for really showing what the experience was all about!

This project sounds amazing

Do you think it will be resurrected, or arise in a new form? I'd love to have a go.

No information at the moment

At the moment I really don't know what will happen to the results of the project. If I hear anything and am allowed to talk about it I will update this page.

I don't understand why the

I don't understand why the project hasn't continued, is really amazing...

life house Methods Music

Hi thanks for the review of information,I participated in the program,it was a Great Experience,and a lot of fun,my question is,I have spoken to some people that participated,and hadn't saved their music to iTunes,or their hard drive.Is there anyplace that they can log in, to get to hear their Music again.Possibly a site with the Music from all the participating sitters that they could log into with their original password.Thanks Kevin Kennedy


thanks for leaving us this tombstone to mark the grave. the samples are really stunning--and those are the result of the simple inputs you describe? amazing, and it would be amazing to hear more. Who knows, maybe there will be a resurrection. after all, it wouldn't be the first one...

life house Methods Music

I just found about this and find it's not there any more what would it take to get it back on the net? the plug was pulled to fast just hearing whats out there now we all can see Pete was ahead of the time and now time has caught up with him.

kicking myself for just

kicking myself for just hearing about this now...on the bright side, someone smarter than i will make a knock-off version if this one doesn't go back up...or, maybe, some even smarter than YOU will make all those tweaks and updates you were hoping for.

"but, Mr. Townshend owns the rights to this technology and the idea, and he could sue anyone that rips it off!"

...yeah...that'll stop it from happening

Musical sounds

Hi Dave,

Just a correction to the above, if you recall it was me who created the SoundFont2 sounds and instrumentation used by the system, not Myles.

I spent weeks locked in the studio building the sounds, and then sweating it out with Lawrence Ball in my studio reworking the musical samples on the Synclavier and overcoming enormous obstacles to cope with the system being able to require a note played of possible duration in the milliseconds from an instrument with a slow attack and still make a meaningful sound.

All the instruments were real recorded instruments from the Synclavier System and then tweaked, for example the sample starting on the exact part of the waveform sample to generate sound very quickly, and then converting them from the Synclavier format and building them into the soundfont 2 format - something which had never been done before. We worked in conjunction with Chicken Systems to convert their software to do exactly what we needed in the Soundfont2 format.

We had to do this as no sound library was capable of coping with the demands of the system.

Many tears and tribulations along the way, but we finally achieved the aim.

Best regards
Steve Hills.

Sorry Steve!

Sorry Steve! I've posted an update to correct this. Thanks for pointing out my mistake.

releasing the source?

how about releasing the source under some open license? how the hell did this project end so abruptly?

Re: releasing the source

The copyright to the project's source code is owned by Pete Townshend. It would be great to be able to release it but I do not (at this time anyway) have the authorisation to do that.

Article on Lifehouse method on Pete Townshend site

Carrie Pratt has written a post about the Lifehouse Method on Pete Townshend's site: it includes interviews with Lawrence Ball, Myles Clarke, Richard Evans and me

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