Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Casio VL Tone

I own several Casio musical instruments. As is consistent with my aesthetic, they are are cheap and easy to buy. Casio was a company that sold calculators, and began selling musical instruments. The VL Tone was one of their earliest efforts.

I was in college at the time, and I didn't have a lot of money. This thing came out, and it had the rudimentary abilty to program sounds into it. I wrapped my mind around that. I dabbled in music and noisemaking (ala Eno etc) as I do now. I had to have one.

It took a month for me to get the money together, but I bought one, many years ago, and I still have it. I think it and a guitar would be enough I had to get rid of everything else.

What triggered me to write about it now is that I have been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to create things. There used to be technological barriers, but many of those are dropping. Video production, as an example, is very inexpensive in terms of equipment. But it still takes a lot of time to create something that people will watch and enjoy.

I just finished a rough cut on a video project, ran into lots of little snags with Final Cut, but in the end, got it done. My estimate on how long it would take me to do it was way off. But at the same time, I had to again marvel at what I could do -- editing a video project at the kitchen table.

The Casio VL Tone was/is brilliant in that it is an utterly approachable and affordable instrument that allowed just enough depth to allow some mastery. Beyond playing a song reasonably well, I could change the way it worked in ways that were interesting enough that I never really tired of it. It encouraged experimentation, within it's modest limitations.

Casio went on to make some other remarkable instruments, such as the SK-1 and SK-5 sampling keyboards. These are equally remarkable and creative as the lowly VL Tone. I have these as well. The VL Tone is special, though, because at the time it came out, the walkman was the device du jour. The VL Tone was sort of an extension of it, but in a way, the antithesis. Instead of listening to music, you could create it yourself. And you didn't have to be a musician to do it -- no one would judge with the headphones on.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Media Distribution 4 All

We return once again to the mantra that media distribution systems are changing, changing, changing. A few more data points:

People will buy when they sense that they are getting a good deal. Witness Apple selling a ton of videos in a very short time. It was a cheap experiment for Apple, to gauge demand. There have been few complaints about the quality of the video. Ironcially, while many online writers assumed that consumers wanted higher resolution, the 320x240 frame size that Apple is using is more than adequate for content. The resolution is not that far removed from a conventional resolution television set. Content on broadcast TV is still produced in a way that assumes lower resolution, not higher resolution, because that is the lowest common denominator.

Broadcasters are in an uneasy position where they may want to take part in this revolution, but their relationships with local television stations will be put at odds. Still, there are some bright spots, outside of Apple's partnership. NBC is going to make their Nightly newscast available online soon -- albeit delayed until 10 pm. My guess is that they won't make it downloadable, it will be tied to a personal computer, where they will have more opportunity to push advertising. Due to their partnership with Microsoft, it will be in Windows Media format.

This all sounds progressive and such, but I have remind again that the CBC has been doing this for some time, as have others. The CBC, in fact, airs many of their regional news programs -- want to find out what's up in Yellowknife?

I would encourage NBC to take the logical step, which is make their news programs downloadable in MPEG-4, so that people can watch them at their leisure. It will surely upset some people, but others will understand that this is a new viewership that would otherwise not watch their newscast -- an additional opportunity to sell advertising, perhaps.

The pace will accelerate now -- the video iPod and the Sony PSP (to a lesser degree) will fuel that. It will be a struggle -- a struggle for content distribution models, DRM vs. Free Access, who pays for programming.

It will also be a big opportunity for people to leverage this as new ways to distribute content, the rise of narrowcasting for all perhaps. Startups like Open Media Network and Our Media are examples of groups exploring the ways that digital media can be used to "get the messsage out". Who knows? It really still boils down to how many people you can get to watch your stuff, but for a while at least the playing field is more or less level. It is an exciting time.