TODD RUNDGREN: AN INTERACTIVE CONVERSATION

This is an article by Oscar Bastante. "Keyboard. Musica y Tecnologia" Num. 49. 1.994. Translated from the original Spanish by Inaki Prieto, Bask Country, Spain
In the claustrophobic dressing room of Chic Studio disco in Barcelona there is a scent of washed clothing. A simple table, placed at the left corner of the room shows an ilogical and absurd assortment of canapes and cold meat already dry and uneatable. The rest of the room is filled by four black folding chairs, being the last one occupied by Todd Rundgren, wearing a shabby black and white shirt, black trousers and brown suede shoes (the same clothes he will wear during the show later that night). After a small formal presentation the questions begin to flow, being answered by Todd with a deep voice and calm attitude while holding a kleenex in one of his big and gesticulating hands that he waves conti- nously like arms of a windmill.

Q.: Last year you published No World Order, a piece of work based on the possibility of interacting, allowing the listener to vary the musical content. What does interactivity mean for you and what was your purpose releasing this work?

OH: Basicly I have developped the concept of interactivity to give the people buying NWO in CD-i format the opportunity to chose among varied options the music they want to hear. For example, if you are listening to a song, feeling a little low, you can press a button and obtain an appropiate music for what your feelings are at that moment; if you want to experiment with a section of a song and develop a base, you can follow pressing buttons until you feel tired; if you want to change the speed of the song you can also do that. The purpose is that the person who buys the CD-i can do everything he wants with it, because he has many varied options to listen to the same song. The concept of interactivity in live concerts means that the public may participate in it jumping on stage, interrupting the concert, even changing the direction and meaning of it. The public has freedom to chose what they want to hear and do during the show.

Q.: Do you think that in the future all live performances will be interactive?

OH: Not for everybody; it depends on the circumstances. Not all the musicians would fell confortable with this kind of working. There are many artists that don't feel confortable with that kind of approach from the public. Just look at the television: everything is standardized, very classified, and it seems that the artists can't get away of established cliches; the show must be this way, the video cameras must be in that place, and the giant screens in that other place... That can't be changed, and I, instead of trying to change it, I'd rather pretend to offer different alternatives for a different show. My concerts are not conventional, it's more a party than a show. I want some other people having also a leading role, not only me. In places like Barcelona, where I've never been before, and where public isn't used to this kind of shows, I want to brake the barriers and tell the people that the can participate and come to the stage to have fun. Thst's the concept of interactivity.

Q.: What made you get in the world of video and what are your interests in audio-visual work?

OH: I got interested in video long time ago, in the 70's, when in U.S. people started taking interest in it. At the end of the 70's I built up a studio, not completely professional, just to do things for myself. In the 80's I finally made up a professional studio, but instead of basing it on videos, I based it on computers. Video is not a priority for me.

Q.: You have created some software programs of electronic graphism. What were the purpose of those programs?

OH: I've been always interested in showing my ideas using different ways of working. I, for example, have never wanted to write a book, but through this programs I like to express my ideas. I have been always interested in things related to technique, not only because I love technical things, but because it's my way of expressing things once you have reached some level of skill. I am often considered as a tehcnical person, but for me, techno- logy is only a vehicle to expand the possibilities of art creation.

(At this moment, Todd ask for silence to the people talking in corridor near the room. Until now his answers are gentle but not very specific, as if it was not really interested in talking about his work as a laboratory wizard and his undoubtful authority of the technology applied to creative art. Being behind an awful pair of sunglasses, with his long hair partially coloured blond and less thin than usually, Todd focuses again on the inter- view while outside we can hear the sound check of all his electronic paraphernalia.)

Q.: You are also well known as a producer for other artists. What is your general approach to producing and how is the process of beginning a new production work?

OH: Usually, when I work as a producer for other people, I am more inte- rested in the songs than in the sound in itself. What I want is to help the song to express what it want to communicate. Basicly, 90% of my worries is to transmit the meanings of the songs. The sound and the way to treat the song are not so important. I sometimes ask people to let me produce them because I think that doing a good production work is not so simple.

Q.: Usually it has been said that you, as a producer, care specially the vocal parts of the records. Do you have a particular treatment for the voice productions?

OH.: I do it because I think that voice is the first and most important instrument, the most authentic and the way to transmit all the strengh of a particular song. I want to make sure that this feeling, this strengh shows out firmly, and it is impossible to reflect that without a good voice treatment.

Q.: What is your opinion, positive or negative, os the technological evolution in the music world?

OH.: It depends. Technology is not a good or bad thing in itself. For example, techno music don't reach many people because you can dance it but you can't listen to it. Most of the people that do this kind of music let the machines do their part; basicly, the machines make everything and the musicians almost nothing which is a dangerous thing because ther is no feeling needed. But, if you can deal with not abusing with technology, and make the music with human feelings, if you can see things as a musician, you will see people not only dancing with your songs but listening to them and trying to understand the message.

Q.: The change from analogic to digital, what has it done for the music? Has it change it in some way?

OH.: Yes. Not only in music, also in sounds, images, etc. It's because the amount of information you can control and process is much bigger with a digital sistem. For example, you can't make a vinyl analogic recording using telephone lines, but you can't transform music in digits and transmit them by phone.

Q.: Do you think that musical evolution is stil related to synthetisers developpement or is it now in the hands of computers evolution?

OH.: I think that the music evolution is more related to the culture than any other thing. There are political, etnologichal or ecological facts, even everybody's own personal experiences, that make music change reflecting the historical and cultural events of its time. But computers are nowadays the most important thing, but tomorrow everything could change because of a nuclear explosion, for example. Maybe in the future people will get tired of technological events and will be more interested in the sound of an acoustic guitar.

Q.: One last thing.. do you think that you, as a musician, producer, sound philosopher, can be compared to other artists like Brian Eno?

OH.: I don't think so. Brian Eno is a more experimental producer and tries to change the music of the artists he is producing, even telling them the way to play. I am more respectful with my partner. I separate very clearly the roles of the artist and the producer. My interest is knowing what the artist want to express, not how I would do it if I was in his place. Even if my last record No World Order is quite experimental, my previous records have always been made in a classical and traditional way. I think people like Brian Eno and I are very different, we think different about our role as producers and I don't feel very identified with his work

Q.: O.K. Thak you very much Todd.

And the interview ends here. One hour later we can see Todd in his platform making the public dance and even play. Very funny, curious and not so usual. See you later Todd...keep interacting.