Rundgren preps interactive CD

By Jeffrey Jolson-Colburn (September 2, 1992)
Recording artist Todd Rundgren is negotiating with record labels and electronics manufacturers to release the first interactive album, an audio CD he created that allows home listeners to create millions of different compositions based on Rundgren's multilayered themes.

Rundgren has constructed the music in segments so that listeners with C-I or CD-ROM players can change the song of builds their own tunes using a joystick, sort of like a "musical Leggo." [sic] The work has been constructed so that it will still make musical and lyrical sense in all its variations.

"The album can be different each time you hear it," Rundgren told The Hollywood Reporter. "You navigate through a musical space that's like an aquarium. You swim in a musical direction until you decide to change your vector. Or you can hang out in a part of the music if you like a verse. Or hear different lyrics and stay in the same musical space, with more or less instruments, with or without vocals, and so on."

The artist, known as a fan and promoter of future technologies like virtual reality, will likely market the record in both interactive and standard CD versions. The conventional linear CD version would feature what could be called "Todd's Mix" with a bonus CD showing what other producers did with the same musical database. The idea here is to introduce listeners to what Rundgren firmly believes is the future of music, even though the interactive hardware is only just starting to find its way into homes.

"Most people will listen to the music on a regular CD," Rundgren said, "but I want to start getting people familiar with the concept, familiar with the idea of a musical database. We'll let other producers be a tour guide through this musical space to show how much variety there is in the work." Those with interactive players can also hear Rundgren's linear production. "on the interactive version, you can theoretically just play it back and listen to a pre-plotted road map through the music," he said.

Rundgren has had a long career in rock, beginning with the group Nazz in the late '60s. He is a prolific solo artist and is considered a pioneer in music videos. He was a member of the group Utopia, which reunited for a brief tour of Japan last spring.

Rundgren left Warner Bros. Records last June and is now in negotiations with other labels to release the pre-produced music, and will license rights to the fully interactive CD separately.

"we are holding back interactive rights," said Rundgren's manager, Eric Gardner. "We will sell them off separately to interactive hardware companies that need software." Philips, which owns PolyGram Records, and Tandy Corp. will both have interactive CD machines in the market this year.

"One of the major discussions we're having with labels is the precise manner in which this marketing concept can be practically implemented," said Gardner. "The most practical way is not to release four complete albums, but have three other producers do portions of the album, and put it on a single CD that consumers would get as a bonus CD."

"This way we can give the listeners a hint of what's possible. Todd's mission is to prepare the public for the new form that music will take," Gardner said. "It's the next generation of audio, and artists who can't cope will fall by the wayside."

Other artists needn't be intimidated by the technology, Rundgren feels, noting that it wasn't all that hard or time-consuming for an artist to make his music interactive.

"The way it impacts on writing," he said, "is that there are considerably more verses. Plus you have to be aware of where it gets digitally cut up. Otherwise, it doesn't take much longer than the normal writing process. You have to keep certain things in mind, but it's not more tedious to write or record. The mixing takes longer, because in effect you are mixing several versions of each song."

As for the future of the genre, Rundgren said that "as the technology evolves, the music will become more sophisticated than this. Five or ten years from now, when most media is delivered directly to the home (another theme of Rundgren's, who believes record and video stores will be rendered obsolete by direct electronic delivery to home), you can create this ever-expanding database. From a listener's standpoint, there will always be new things to discover on a record: new lyrics, whole new themes, new solos, guest artists -- anything is possible once the medium is fully interactive."

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