Saturday, May 05, 2007


Almost 15 years seperate Peter Gabriel's launch of WE7 his new internet-based music download system from his first multimedia CD-Rom Xplora-1, the subject of an interview I did with him for The Independent (see below)

In 'How artists can earn in a won't pay world' for The Times, he writes eloquently and convincingly about what he sees as the future of music and the music industry, and the thinking that has gone into WE7. I have signed up as a musician (one of the categories). This is the e-mail I received:
The idea behind We7 is to create an opportunity for new bands to reach more potential fans and more importantly get paid for each download.The business model is simple; Fans Get Free Music - Artists Get Paid – Advertisers get Heard. As you have joined us at the very beginning the final commercial models are still being defined but in principle we expect to be able to get between 10-50p per download track from advertisers from which we pay 8% Mechanical fees to the PRS, 2% Bandwidth costs and then share the remainder 50/50 between us and you. However, your music will face the Tastemaker challenge and the We7 community will have the eventual decision on what bands/artists get generically published and hence make money.We have just gone live with our early demo site, ahead of creating our social network site to be launched in the early summer. By then we will have more automated mechanisms for you to download music and Meta data to be published.We will also have a community site widget that you will be able to add to Social Network sites, your own sites or your fans sites and every track downloaded will have a potential payment.

I'll be checking it out!
The revenge of the talking head

CD-Rom: one day all records will be made this way. And Peter Gabriel is already off the mark with Xplora 1. John May talks to him

[The Independent. 9 December 1993]

Peter Gabriel is at it again, transmuting himself into another medium, exploring yet another technical frontier. Fifteen year ago he began thinking of himself as an experience designer. Now it’s be­ginning to come into focus. The possible pretentiousness of that title is offset by his work in progress: the theme park ride, the multimedia CD-Rom disc and the Future Park in Barcelona.

We are drinking tea in a peaceful dining room in one of the creamy stone houses that make up his Real World complex in Box, set in the Wiltshire vales. Gabriel has grown a small moustache and beard around his month and chin. He wears an oversize patterned shirt and speaks softly.

"My dad came up with the first fibre-optic wired cable TV system in the world, with an Italian. It was for Rediffusion in this country, Had a prototype in Hastings. 1 grew up listening to him trying to cham­pion home shopping, pay-TV, electronic democracy. This was his battle, for this wondrous means of communication."

The main topic of our conversation is the new Real World product: one of the first interactive multime­dia CD-Rom discs issued by a major musician/artist. (Todd Rundgren is the other front-runner.)

In a year’s time that won't need explanation but right now this is what it is and what you get. CD-Rom discs look like compact discs, but they hold a vast amount of data, not just words but also video, stills and animation, all which are linked together in something that multimedia designers call, delightfully, an "entity model". You view them on your computer or on one of the new multiplayers linked to your television, like Phillips CD-I.

The disc divides into four sections: ‘US’, ‘Real World’, ‘Behind the Scenes’ and ‘Personal File’. Each of them are represented by an icon you can activate. Inside ‘US’ is all the artwork from the album, much of it animated, plus video clips and music. ‘Real World’ allows you to examine and listen to the entire Real World catalogue; to investigate and play some of the instruments used; to visit the Real World studios and see work in progress. You can remix one of Gabriel’s tracks by moving the levels on an on-screen mixer.

‘Behind the Scenes’ offers a map of the Womad concert site which you can explore. ‘Personal File’ is a suitcase full of Gabriel’s past, including his family photo album (click on the photos and they come alive as super-8 home movies and his Eternal Passport (open it by clicking on the cover and you bsee his animated passport photo endlessly cycle from baby to old man to skull and back). Gabrfiel is your guide on the side to all this, perched angelically as a little talking icon in the top corner of the screen.

Compared with a number of other multimedia discs, it’s fair to say that this one sets a very high standard. What is particularly pleasing is the design and colours. The use of natural textures for the background screen, like the sky and water, is extremely restful on the eye. There are lots of little tricks (a dinosaur wanders unexpectedly across the top of the screen) and care and attention to detail are obvious at every level. Only Apple users will be able to sample its delights at present but PC versions will follow.

The disc, called Xplora-1 (like a Martian space probe) contains, we are told, 100 minutes of video, more than 30 minutes of au­dio, over 100 full-colour photographic images and the equivalent of a book’s worth of text – 600 megabytes of data.

The project, which from conception to birth occupied 40 people for at least a year, originated with Steve Nelson of the appropriately named Brilliant Media, a San Francisco-based multimedia company. Gabriel, one of the life’s natural multimedia men, took to it instantly.

"I ended up, fortuitously, at an AT&T planning conference [in 1986]. I got onto this thing called Global Business Network who advise corporations on their future. They throw in odd people - like they had an anthropologist looking at the design for Nissan cars. They were talking about laying the in­formation highways using fibre optics. My opinion was that, if you put it down, the traffic will come.

His techno-frontier attitude goes down well in the US: "People believe its possible over there. They get excited, they support it, run with it and hope some of the magic will rub off on them. Here we sit back like a bunch of cynics.”

He recognises that his new project is just scratching the surface of a whole new medium and his Real World multimedia company is now aiming to have a dozen projects up and running within the next year.

"The role of the artist is changing in a sense that there's always been a linear route through a work of art before, and now we are providing an environment which may contain a linear route, but which is also a playground for people to go off and explore for themselves. So you can produce a finished piece of work and also collage kits. People may explore your forest or they may take your tree and put them in a dome.

“In the same way that we have a dictionary in our heads which provides with the tools for our communication though language, our kids or their kids will grow up with some kind of multimedia hieroglyphic capability.”

Interactive multimedia will, Gabriel believes, “fine a huge place in the markets the same as videos did”. And maybe he should know - he was in the forefront of that development too.
“What is possible is affected very much by what is believed to be possible," he says. Peter Gabriel, experience designer, is just warming up for the next Big Show.


According to Peter Gabriel's Wikipedia entry, Xplora-1 can no longer be played on modern PCs, due to changes to their operating systems.

The Barcelona Future Park, a collaboration with Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson never got off the ground.

Peter Gabriel's Home Page

No comments: