Rundgren maps out interactive future for music, videos

November 8, 1991
By Paula Parisi
The biggest challenges in advancing entertainment media to the interactive plateau are philosophical, not technological, according to musician Todd Rundgren, who detailed his vision of a brave new world of artistry combining visuals with music and a consumer interface.

"I'm going to be the banner carrier for this, or conversely the guy who gets the arrow in his back," keynoter Rundgren told attendees of the 13th annual Billboard Music Video Conference, which runs through today at the Ma Maison Sofitel Hotel.

Leading the charge, he also cast a wary eye to the flanks, promising to "make a lot of noise about anyone who wants to bring the wholesale attitudes of the music industry into this new field."

Underscoring the difference between traditional art, "which reflects a personal agenda" and commercial art, "an agenda set entirely by the audience," Rundgren leveled a scathing indictment against some of today's popular music figures and their proclivity for "self-aggrandizement."

Fearful that these self-promoters "will rush in a try and take advantage of this new medium before anyone's really proven what it can do," he vowed to fend off such interlopers.

Rundgren was a pioneer in U.S. music videos, but stopped making them in the mid-1980s out of disappointment with the MTV-style direction the medium was taking.

Though Rundgren referred several times during his speech to the fact that he's left the music industry, manager Eric Gardner said the artist has signed a multiyear Japanese record deal with Fujisankei Communications.

Gardner said he is in discussions with U.S. companies for a similar arrangement, with Rundgren retaining all ancillary rights to his music, which he intends to platform onto interactive entertainments.

The artist's 19-year association with Warner Bros. Records ended in July. He is best known the the 1970s pop hits "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw The Light," but his later albums and tours have earned him an enthusiastic cult following.

Rundgren is currently seeking an equity partner to help him launch a new label that will sign artists to develop interactive entertainment.

After the speech, Rundgren spoke of making interactive music albums in which listeners would have options like repeating a song's verses as many times as they like, instead of staying with the artist's traditional arrangement of the song.

He has also entered into a partnership venture called NuTopia with NuTek, manufacturer of the Video Toaster.

Toaster, a $4,000 "TV studio in a box" device, had been languishing on the market for about a year before Rundgren made it the toast of the town by using it for the "Change Myself" video, which was created entirely in the domain of the desktop system.

Gardner quoted cost estimates for the high-tech video clip as in the $400,000 range, but said it cost Rundgren only about one-fifth that amount, because he executed the creative design and execution tasks himself.

The NuTopia facility, based in Sausalito, is now open for business, and will target opportunities creating computer effects for music videos, TV series and specials and even films, substituting the relatively inexpensive electronic effects for traditional opticals.

Opening the doors to his own studio is one way to get things moving in an interactive direction, he noted, adding that the biggest challenge would be getting the creative community to think in terms of an interactive end product, and not just tag it on "as an afterthought" as videoclips had for so many years been treated.

"In the years to come, you're going to see a lot of devices bringing computer technology to television. Soon you'll be able to go out and buy a TV with a computer built in, and by the end of the decade you won't be able to buy a TV without a computer in it," he predicted.

Copyright © 1991
The Hollywood Reporter
Used with permission