interacting with the future
This month’s words on future worlds
Modern music production is a right old Jericho - the walls are tumbling down. Mixed Media highlights products and developments which are changing our lives, as digital techniques fuse sound and picture creator and user, entertainment and communication. Keep in touch...
There is a revolution about to happen in consumerism. Capitalising upon new and existing technology like satellite, telecommunications and network systems, businesses are now finding quicker and more convenient methods of distributing their wares than opening shops. (QVC is an example, if admittedly an awful one.) And lo! - the technological 'home shopping' tactic has now been employed in what has hitherto been known as the record industry. The guilty parties are a group of particularly clever people at Cerberus Sound & Vision, who are now offering a sleek record and video buying service via modem.
Perhaps the idea is better described as 'evolutionary' rather than 'revolutionary' - replacing a tired record company system, seemingly hell-bent on churning out more litigation than recordings, with a streamlined vehicle in the fast lane of the information highway - providing the same service for less hassle and cost.
Ironically enough, Cerberus are mounting their onslaught from London's Denmark Street - better known as Tin Pan Alley, the legendary heart of the UK music publishing industry since days usually described as old and good. At the moment, they have a library of 1,000 songs - and this will increase.
The advantages of such a service (for the buying public) are enormous. No coy remarks from obstreperous young sales assistants on the purchase of your sixth Bananarama single in a month. No hideous covers designed by Roger Dean. And no need to walk to the record shop in the first place - a 24-hours-a-day, completely accessible music store in the corner of your living room.
For artists, the advantages are equally enticing. The costs of pressing and distribution are avoided, whilst royalties remain eminently collectable, electronically. Artists can also use the database as a marketing and advertising platform, forming a cost-effective method of promoting concerts and merchandise.
How does it work? Cerberus' 'Digital Jukebox' allows music, video, sleeve graphics and text to be downloaded from a 24-hour online library to any PC via modem - a private, comprehensive music collection at the twitch of a mouse. When you dial in, choices are presented on a graphic representation of a jukebox, incorporating options such as sound quality (ranging from low grade to 16-bit 44.1kHz CD quality), full or sample versions, single tracks or compilations. Video clips which are also available cover the usual music paraphernalia, including live performances, rockumentaries and promo video snippets. These are available alongside unique biographies and band photographs in the form of custom-designed illustrated 'booklets'.
Using a Windows-based platform, WAV-format samples are loaded and decompressed in real- time. Based around the MPEG1 and MPEG2 compression standards, a song file 55Mb in size can be reduced to just 5.5Mb, thereby reducing the time it takes to receive the data by a factor of ten. Data can also be reduced in ratios of 20:1, 30:1 and 40:1, the higher ratios resulting in quicker access time and cheaper calls - albeit with some loss in quality.
For those without a computer, Cerberus are currently working on a cable TV alternative, whereby a CD single and all its accompanying onscreen literature could be called up to your television set.
So if you reckon your PC should replace your hi-fi, or at least supplement it as a gateway to a huge supply of multimedia, you can contact Cerberus directly for advice. What's more, the company is also inviting any artists interested in supplying material for the database to send in their demo tapes. What are you waiting for?
Contact: Cerberus Sound & Vision, (Contact Details).
Those not familiar with the term 'sleep aware', nor with the phenomenon of being woken in the morning to the aroma of a lightly toasted hard disk, have probably never involved their computer in the rendering of 3-D animations overnight. Yet, in order to generate the sorts of images that make many a computer user gawp in disbelief, a great deal of processing power, storage space and (rarest of all commodities) time is required.
Providing the necessary spades and rakes to cultivate these 3-D files, Modelbox's Renderfarm is a new facility dedicated to producing high quality computer animations and transferring them to video. Starting from a PC 3DS file, the farm's metaphorical tractors render animations onto Sony CRV laserdisc, where they can then be edited, dubbed with sound and transferred to any video format (U-Matic, VHS, D1 etc.).
The London-based facility is sponsored by Autodesk (the people responsible for creating the 3D Studio program) and the mighty Sony. One of the principal pieces of hardware, indeed, is a Sony LVR-4000P laserdisc recorder/player. Using this recording technology, Modelbox overcome many of the pitfalls of tape-based systems - most notably, the degradation in the quality of images over a period of time. The Sony unit also features an RS232C interface which allows computer controlled playback and recording.
The Renderfarm has a flat-rate charge based upon rendering time and video usage, which amounts to a fraction of what you would spend attempting the same feats on your own equipment. More likely, it will become a regular port-of-call for an increasing number of music production teams venturing into graphics.
For more information contact: Renderfarm, (Contact Details).
Much in the same way that technology has brought music new expressive tools, so it has affected the visual arts. V-Topia, the first exhibition of its kind to be held in Scotland, celebrates this relationship with an array of digital technology and computer-generated images.
Featuring three works commissioned especially for V-Topia, and three pieces never before seen in the UK, the exhibition covers 1,250 square metres - one of the largest techno-art shows ever seen in the UK.
The menu at this electronic cafe includes live experimental music from Global Communications (aka Reload), live and interactive film and video performances, theatre, discussions and a wealth of musical performances with a hands-on, computer bias.
V-Topia takes place at the Tramway in Glasgow until the 10th of September. For more information contact Tramway on (Contact Details).
Succumbing to the lure of multimedia as easily as a dieter to chocolate, Sound Development Studios - at the long-established Utopia studio complex in Camden, North London - are now offering CD-i and CD-ROM production services. To this brave new era they bring the rare credentials of 20 years' experience in video post-production and audio dubbing.
Clients are promised a smooth ride from script to finished CD-ROM under the auspices of engineer/editor Ben Baird. Having all the facilities under one roof is a measure designed to alleviate the production headaches associated with incompatible machines, varying formats and multiple idioms. On the audio side, Cubase and Sound Designer II are provided as the multimedia mould is cast. Expect more studios of one kind or another to reflect this trend in a pot-planted, venetian-blinded media factory near you.
Contact: Sound Development Studios, Utopia Village, (Contact Details).
News by Danny McAleer
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