Australia's Asia Pacific interactive option

M. Billsson profiles Pacific Advanced Media

“We pipped them at the post in 1993 when we realised (guitarist and composer) Guy Delandro’s Pool of Reflection. Everyone was talking about multimedia in music and we produced Guy’s album with interactive liner notes,” explains Peter Higgs, until recently Chairman of Sydney-based multimedia technology company, Pacific Advanced Media, of the interactive CD-ROM programming his company has developed called Active Audio.

“This still had the Track One problem but as a concept for an album no one had done interactive liner notes for a popular CD until we did. Six months later came Peter Gabriel with his CD-ROM. Gabriel’s CD-ROM has no Redbook. It’s designed purely for playing through the computer. You hear the music but it’s not the full 44 kilohertz stereo, not Redbook.”

The major innovation that has given Pacific Advanced Media the advantage is in overcoming that ‘Track One problem.’ This is where Track One of a CD is used for the interactive information to be read by your CD-ROM. If you want to play your CD as audio software, unless you remember to skip Track One, you’ll find yourself listening to a lot of very unpleasant noise for anything up to 20 minutes.”

“We had a contract from BMG Records that said that we had to deliver a CD by a Sydney-based girl group GF4 with Track One solved. The main technical problem to overcome was to hide the computer data from the audio CD component, and deliver it cost effectively. In other words, producing a computer program that you can use over and over again for many different titles, which keeps the cost of production right down.

“If we hadn’t developed that, we’d be in the Peter Gabriel CD-ROM position of having to re-program each title from scratch, with an attendant cost of between $150,000 and $200,000 per project. We’ve brought production costs down to around the same as an average video clip, $25,000 to $35,000. What we’re aiming at now are the hundreds of bands out there that can afford to spend between $30,000 and $60,000 on adding an interactive component to their audio CDs, rather than merely on a clip.”

Pacific Advanced Media, utilising their ActiveAudio system, have already created three titles for BMG Records Australia—the multi-platform CD-ROM single, Sooner or Later by GF4; the album Born Again by Boom Crash Opera; and the single, Truckload of Money by Anti Anti—and one for Warner Music Australia, for hi hop/R&B quartet Kulcha.

As well, Melbourne-based label, Gotham Records, distributed by BMG Australia, have released two AudioActive titles—guitarist Richard Pleasance’ Colourblind, and the eponymous debut album of Melbourne group The Lovers.

“We’re working with all the CD-ROM driver people to make certain that their drives run it, because no-one’s ever done anything like this. There was nothing to comply with except the Redbook Standard, which is the native audio signal, which plays through your CD player. So we took a technology path that gave us 100% compatibility on Macs and about 60% capacity on Windows. Now we’re working on that other 30% or so.”

“These discs work on what’s called a tri-platform basis. They work ‘Native’, unadulterated, in the normal way as a simple CD. You can put them in a Mac and in Windows and they work fine. We’ve also been testing them on Pippin, which is the Apple competitor to Sony’s PlayStation and the Sega and Nintendo games machines and they work on them too.”

Pacific Advanced Media are currently finalising details of a joint venture with Japan and joint ventures currently being negotiated with the US and UK.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 16

© M Billsson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 1995