Interactive CDs Now you can really make music

Audiophiles feeling the urge to tamper with tempo, treble and tone are finally going to be given the chance to be their own record producers.Todd Rundgren's No World Order, due for release in early July, is the first music-only, interactive compact...

Audiophiles feeling the urge to tamper with tempo, treble and tone are finally going to be given the chance to be their own record producers.

Todd Rundgren’s No World Order, due for release in early July, is the first music-only, interactive compact disc.

It allows cd users to manipulate the original album, rearranging and recombining its thousands of musical modules broken down into four- to eight-second bits to recreate an infinite number of versions of the album.

The title will be simultaneously released on Rhino Records’ new Forward label and Philips Interactive Media of America’s Compact Disc Interactive system.

‘You would have to play the cd-i disk for 24 hours a day, seven days a week well into the next millennium to come up with the same version of the song,’ says Philips Interactive Media spokesperson, Todd Greene.

Greene says the conventional, non-interactive, audio-only Forward album, is just one rendition of how No World Order could have turned out.

cd-i machines, which are used in conjunction with a tv set and a remote control, play audio cds, cd-i programs and photo cds.

Greene says the Philips cd-i technology is not new; it is just being applied to a new genre.

Previously, it has been used for interactive games and as an information tool.

About 100,000 cd-i players have been sold worldwide, according to Philips’ figures, and Greene says the company is hoping to double or triple that figure this year.

Rundgren is no stranger to the high-tech intersection of music, video and computers.

Since constructing Los Angeles’ state-of-the art Utopia Video Studios back in 1979, he has been considered a video music pioneer.

‘Todd is the ultimate gear-head,’ Greene says. ‘He came up with the idea and delivered it to Philips as a finished product.’

Rundgren will begin marketing both the interactive and non-interactive versions of No World Order with a 20-city promotional tour, arriving in Toronto, July 22.

Greene says the tour will also include visiting select radio stations, and record and electronics stores in key markets to illustrate the cd-i experience.

Allan Gregg, president of Decima Research and publisher of SoundCan music magazine, says Rundgren’s experiment marks a pivotal point in the history of music.

Gregg says: ‘It’s no less revolutionary than the phonograph, which allowed people to play whatever music they wanted, whenever they wanted, instead of having to go out to the orchestra, symphony or concert hall.’

But Gregg is not convinced consumers are ready for interactive music.

‘While people like to be in control of their environment, I’m not sure they actually want to create music,’ he says.

‘Part of the enjoyment of music is simply the absorption of it, and a detachment from the creative process.’

That will likely mean there will be a limited consumer base for such a product, according to Gregg.

He says technophiles, musicians and producers are the most likely to buy it, at least in the short-run.

Terry David Mulligan, host of MuchWest on the MuchMusic network, agrees.

Expand

However, Mulligan says the market will likely expand if top-billing stars such as Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, or Prince offer listeners a similar interactive experience.

Music consumers have long shown a willingness to record songs from different artists on blank cassettes to create musical collections with their own personal stamp, according to hmv Canadian President Paul Alofs.

Alofs says sales for blank tapes are nearly as high as for pre-recorded ones, and the next logical step is likely to be remixing music within songs.

Both Mulligan and Gregg are skeptical about the success of the interactive cd based on the record of other technological developments in the music industry such as the digital compact cassette (dcc) or Sony’s new compact disk player, Mini Disc.

‘The mini-disc is having a really hard time,’ Mulligan says. ‘The general public kind of stopped at cds and said, `This is pretty good. I think I’ll stop right here.’ ‘

First

Rundgren’s interactive cd musical release coincides with another technological first in the music industry.

On July 6, Billy Idol will release his latest musical cd entitled Cyberpunk, which provides liner notes on an accompanying computer disk, as well as offering a 1-800 number that enables fans to talk to him through his electronic mail and to tap into his computer billboard database.

‘What we’re seeing is a convergence of all media, that will create different experiences for movie-going, for game-playing, as well as for record-listening,’ says Siobhan Grennan, associate producer on MuchMusic’s Fax.

Alofs agrees.

He points to a series of seemingly unrelated events – both the Idol and Rundgren projects, the announcement by Dell Computers that it will be delivering cd-quality audio components such as speakers and microphones for home use with their pcs, and the joint venture by Blockbuster Video and ibm to develop a vending machine that will dispense made-to-order cds – which, combined, seem to suggest the entire information and entertainment landscape is about to be dramatically altered.

‘It’s all about word and sound and visual technologies coming together into one kind of home entertainment system of the future,’ Alofs says.

‘Not too far down the road, the way we shop, consume entertainment products and get information is going to totally change,’ he says.

‘It will be interesting to see who will control that highway of electronic information.’

Rundgren founded groups such as Nazz and Utopia, and composed hits such as Hello It’s Me and I Saw the Light.

He has also produced acts such as Meat Loaf, xtc and the Psychedelic Furs.