Future Life issue 10 - May 1979

Todd Rundgren is one of the most multifaceted figures in contemporary music. Coming into national prominence via 1972's Something/Anything? LP, a two record set featuring Rundgren on all instruments and vocals, Rundgren went on to become a gold record winning producer, handling the chores behind the boards fro Meatloaf, Grand Funk and Utopia. Fascinated with producing, he built his own recording studio from scratch. Of late, he has curtailed his recording activities to experiment in video, constructing his own television facilities. In this recent discussion with FUTURE LIFE, he explains how he envisions the world of future-rock...

I'm really not a big fan of rock and roll. I don't think that rock will exist in the future. In fact, I think it went away a long time ago. I believe, however, that contemporary music will always be around, like it's always been around, in one form or another, whether it's ragtime, jazz, computerized or synthesized. It's hard to predict just how contemporary music will evolve in the near future. In terms of synthesized sound, people will be using a lot more microprocessors soon. A lot of these devices are just meeting with commercial release now and will make a big impact on music during the next few years. For instance, there is now something called a micro-composer which can store eight separate lines of music. It will remember these eight lines and you can control eight synthesizer modules at once. By interfacing this with a tape machine, you can get a very elaborate control system. In the far future, scientific advancements will probably lead to there being less actual hardware on stage during live music concerts in terms of instruments and amplification. Roger Powell, of Utopia, for instance, (who worked with Dr. Robert Moog, inventor of the first synthesizer) uses a synthesizer controller that is built into a keyboard which hangs around his neck onstage. It has a scanning system that scans the keyboards and all of his sensing switches. It scans everything and transmits the information back to a remote synthesizer. You don't actually have to have the synthesizer right on stage. He just uses the portable keyboard with no sound-producing elements in it. Very compact.
Personally, I think that videodiscs may revolutionize music. (Ed. Note: videodiscs are a new type of software, currently being test marketed, which resemble long playing records but,w hen played on special turntable systems, reproduce both sound and video imagery on a TV screen.) I see possibilities for rock and contemporary music to do well on videodiscs. It depends on the music involved, however. Dumb music is just dumb music, even if you conjure up a dumb visual to go with it.
I think that the success of this new videomusic will depend on the depth of the musical content of the individual act working on disc. A lot of people don't have the imagination needed to make a good visual compatible with music.
The first thing I foresee happening is companies reproducing a live concert on videodisc; just a picture of a band playing. Or A Hard Day's Night type musical comedies...Monkee-ish nonsense. That's the type of ideas that most people are going to come up with, which I don't think is going to advance the idea as an art form too much. Eventually, people will see videomusic as a unique and separate art form. I don't think that two independent elements, sight and sound, can be simply grafted together. That's like pasting a picture over a record. Videomusic has to be conceptualised. Music has to be written that will complement the visual and vice versa.
Years ago, music was much more visually oriented, immediate. It was much more graphically written. Then, rock came along and offered a song style that represented a sociological stance, but visualisation was not necessarily a part of it. I think videomusic's time is coming. I'm working on a videodisc at present for RCA. It's a piece of music from Tomita's The Planets LP which we'll adapt visually. I'm more interested in the development of videomusic than I am in music in general. Music today is not a stimulating experience emotionally, sociologically or politically. It has become too establishment oriented. But video today is mushrooming. People are affected more by video than any other medium at this point because people watch TV like crazy. It is probably the most influential outside element in our lives. It is more than just an entertainment medium, but most critics have already written it off. I have a belief that videomusic can elevate the video realm. It can also elevate its audience aesthetically. If networks catch on to what's happening with videodiscs, and schedule similar programming, think of the stimulation/elevation factor. You'd have the greatest amount of influence possible.
In reality, of course, videodiscs won't be a recognizable market phenomenon for another five years. The creation of a disc takes at least as much money and time as the recording of an LP. At this point, however, that sort of money can't be spent because the return at the consumer level is nonexistent. Ultimately, though, videomusic will be an accepted part of the entertainment and art fields. I think the video process will actually improve the overall quality of contemporary music, too...which will be a relief to me. I'm just an old fogey, I guess, 'cause I don't understand the stuff that the kids are listening to these days.