Todd's speech at VISCOMM

(Moscone Center, San Francisco, June 4, 1994)
Please welcome...Todd Rundgren (applause)
Todd begins:
Actually I wasn't prepared to do a demo.  I thought we were just going to come
shoot our mouths off as usual, but...(fiddles with system)...there we go.  Let
me preface my demo with a little philosophical bullshit.  I've been in the
music business for 25+ years, and for most of that time, I've managed to have
access to a lot of the technological innovations that have made music
production more effective and ubiquitous, and during that time I'd very rarely
integrated the work I'd done with computers with the kind of stuff that I would
do with music.  As a matter of fact, previous to NWO the releases that I did
were pretty reactionary.  They were large groups of musicians all playing at
once with no overdubs, sometimes in front of a live audience, and essentially
(to some degree) I was considered anti-digital in terms of the application of
those technologies, the performance of music, or to the experience of listening
to music.  But a couple of years ago, I got to the end of a
19-year relationship with Warner Bros. Records, and I decided that it was time
not only to change labels but to re-define myself as an artist in light of
changes in the way that people listen to music over the course of the past 25
years or so.
When I was a young whippersnapper, my teens, when an album came out by
an artist that you had a great deal of respect for (almost, in those days, it
was a semi-religious reverence for whoever your particular artist of choice
was)...and if for interest, the Beatles came out with "Sergeant Pepper", you
would take it home, you would shutter the windows and lock the door, and turn
out the lights, and mentally condition yourself.  And then you would sit down
and concentrate on the record for however long the duration of that record was,
and probably repeat that process 5 to 10 or to 20 times depending on whether
you had to go to the work the next day.  So, the experience of listening to and
enjoying music has evolved over time into something different.  Music,
nowadays, is much more ubiquitous, and it permeates every aspect of our lives.
Popular music is now in movies and commercials, and you do aerobics to do it,
and of course it's on television in the form of MTV.  The way that people
listen to music has changed also with the advent of devices such as the Sony
Walkman, in which your personal listening experience follows you around rather
than you having to be in a particular location to have that personal listening
So, music is no longer a quality time experience.  It's too ubiquitous to be
simply a quality time experience.  And in recognizing that, I realized that
people have a lot of different needs and expectations about music nowadays that
they might not have had before.  And that required me to apply some of this
knowledge that I had about digital issues and interactive issues to the
production and performance of music.
And so I hit on this idea of interactive music.  The thing that inspired me was
the actual change in music itself.  The fact that through quoting(?) and
re-mixing and things like that, music producers were changing the vocabulary,
and the audience at large was kind of accepting this new vocabulary.  And I
realized that it was no longer a question of a piece of music having an
ultimate form, or an ultimate expression of one kind, but that it was a more
plastic thing.  That you could re-visit music.  A case in point is "Frankie
Goes to Hollywood."   It was not such a phenomenon in this country, but in
Europe, they re-released the same record every two weeks in a different
version.  They would change the mix a little bit, or do some kind of change to
the music, re-release it, and the audience would buy it and listen to it again,
and accept it as a new experience.  And there were other acts that followed up
on this and made the same kind of re-definition of the music.
And so I decided this could be done extemporaneously.  In other words, that you
the listener, can have control over this.  And not only re-mix (and I use that
term very advisedly), re-configure the music, not only for the new creative or
interesting re-combinatorial aspects of it, but also so that music would
conform to specific situations that you wanted to have music accompany...for
instance, dinner or dancing or making out or some other such thing.  So,
anyway, I devised this concept of interactive music, went ahead and sort of
realized that concept, and the last thing I want to say before I demo this is
an essential aspect of my philosophy of interactivity, and that is it's not a
single mode of behavior.  That people in most entertainment situations do --
and desire to -- lapse into a passive mode, to allow the artist to have total
control over the agenda, and more or less give yourself up or surrender
yourself to that artist's agenda.  Then again, there may be situations in which
you're bored with what the artist is doing, or would prefer to hear some other
aspect of the presentation, and therefore you become active, interactive.  You
start navigating the musical space, or the picture space, or whatever.
So what I've tried to do in this title is support all levels of that
interactivity issue which is you have the totally passive mode (let the program
do everything itself), or you can become a more active participant up to the
point where you can be noodling with things constantly and the system will
respond.  So let's crank it up and see whether I know what I'm talking about.
(Begins demo)
So if you stick the disc in there and you boot it up , it's going to behave
like a regular non-interactive CD.  It'll play exactly the same music, with the
same quality of sounds, 16-bit full bandwidth sounds, as a regular CD, and
essentially supports you in your passive mode.  We have stand-ins for all the
CD controls, and those act as they would on a regular CD.  So if you don't want
to have to learn how to use any of this junk up here (points to menu of
options) you still get the listening experience that you would expect from a
CD.  But, if you're into messing around with things a little bit, then you'll
get a sense for the range of options that are available to you.  For instance,
this thing called "program".  We're not playing sound linearly off the disc in
a way that a normal CD does.   CD gets the sound off the disc and buffers it
right out through the line outputs and gives you your sound that way.  But,
what we're doing here is we're spooling sound into the memory of the machine,
and then we're actually (it's in a compressed form) we're de-coding it and
then we're pushing it out to the speakers.  And what that allows us to do is
move the head anywhere on the disc.  This means we can jump between any two
pieces of music, and more or less, in what we call head-latency time, which is
about 1 1/2-2 seconds.
So, since we're not playing this linearly, we're playing musical events,
there's about 933 pieces of digitized sound on the disc, each one of which
represents a musical event.  It could be a verse or a chorus, solo section,
something like that.  And what we do is we go through a list that says 'first
play this one, play this verse from this song, then play this chorus, go to
this other song', whatever.  And, what I've done is, not only have I included
my list of events, but also included scripts by other producers just to kind of
explore the interactive capabilities.  So, we've got scripts by Don Was (plays
sample), he's in a different place than I was obviously.  Let's see where Jerry
Harrison is (plays sample)...OK, so he's in a different place.  Let's see where
Bob Clearmountain is (plays sample)...he's in a different theme altogether.
And Hal Wilner who's such a goof ball, he's going to be in a different place
altogether (plays sample)...just as I suspected.
OK, since we're playing a script of events rather than a strictly formatted
linear traversal of events, we can go through the script in different
directions.  In other words, instead of going forward through the script we can
go in reverse through it (plays sample).  Of course, you have to know what the
record sounded like forward to know what it sounded like backward.  But what we
can also do is stop moving through the script altogether and concentrate on a
single part of the music (plays sample).  So again, it's like a record skipping
but it does it in a musical place.  What is this good for?  Well, let's say you
really like this song, but every time it gets into the chorus all these
instruments come in and you can't understand the words anymore, so you'd like
to concentrate a little bit on the lyrics.  So what you can do is narrow the
range of what the machine will play, and let's say select a "sparser" mix
(plays sample).  You can hear that some of the instruments have dropped out.
Then of course you may want to go to the other extreme, and say 'I'd like to
sing along with the record', so put it into the karaoke mode (plays sample).
So, if you were so inclined you could listen to the whole record without any
vocals on it, and it becomes a whole different experience.
So, what else can you do?  Well, let's say you've got a dance party and you
want all your friends to dance like maniacs so we'll narrow down the range of
selection here again, and we'll put it up on the fastest possible tempo (plays
sample).  What it will do is coerce every single piece of music that's supposed
to be played into something that's up to the tempo that you desire.  Let's say
you're having dinner with your folks and you don't want to upset them too much,
so you cut down on the range of possibilities here, and let's play something
'sad', let's try something 'happy' (I guess it was happy)...let's get
'bright' (demos)...tell you what, let's go 'dark' (demos)...let's go, for
instance, 'sad' (demos).  In any case, take my word for it, it'll do it's best
to conform to the mood that you've established.
What we're doing now is going through the script 'very fast forward'.  In other
words, it's jumping through events so quickly that it doesn't seem to have any
actual form anymore.  So you go down to this thing called 'form', and you can
go over and say 'you know this sounds a little bit too wacky for me,  can you
make it more conservative?'  (demos) what it'll try to do is coerce
everything into something that sounds more like a song.  So even though we're
running through the script really fast, and pulling out events here and there,
it looks for trends, and coerces it into something that sounds more like a
song.  And we can do just the opposite as well.  We can say 'let's hold on this
piece of music here.'  So, this is going to play the same piece over and over
again -- the essence of monotony.  Now you may say to yourself, 'this is too
boring, can you make it more creative?'  Why, of course we can (plays sample).
So when you get a setting that you like, let's say dinner with the folks, you
store these events into the radial buttons below like you would on your car
radio so you can have "dinner with the folks", "aerobics", "doing the dishes",
"dance party", "making out", etc.  And if you get a little lost, you can call
the on-line contact sensitive help anytime (plays sample).
So, essentially that 's pretty much how it works.  The next step is going to be
to start doing artists who have a greater sort of cultural resonance.  In other
words, this music is all new so people don't have a reference point for what
kind of effects they're making on it.  So this is more of a demonstration disc
let's say for the concept of interactive music.  But soon you'll be seeing
interactive versions of records by some of your favorite artists.  I won't go
into names right now, but we're in the process of firming that up, and
hopefully let's say a year from now, there should be a couple dozen titles out
by artists who's names you'd recognize and who's work you'd enjoy to explore in
a more particular manner. So, that's how it works...thank you very much.