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Friday, June 14, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Todd Rundgren -- Rundgren Making Music For The Ears - And Eyes

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

For Todd Rundgren - rock star, producer, composer of hit songs and an Off-Broadway musical - change has always been a matter of habit.

Rundgren, best known for his early '70s hits "Hello It's Me" and "We Gotta Get You a Woman," has also always had an eye for the possibilities of new technology.

"It's not that I'm consciously trying to be different for the sake of being different," Rundgren said. "I guess I just have a shorter attention span than most people. I work with whatever thing I find most interesting at any given time."

He has consistently worked in uncharted realms. He has gone from guitars to early innovations with synthesizers, and from the mixing board to multimedia productions using videos and computers.

As he turns 43 on June 22, he has to his credit 14 solo albums and 13 as part of a group. But these days, he's not only making music for the ears, he's also making "music for the eye."

With "Change Myself," his stunning self-produced video, and "Flowfazer," his innovative software that produces a pattern of psychedelic images for the Macintosh computer, Rundgren is reaching an audience that extends far beyond the pop-music world.

Not only has "Change Myself" - the first single from Rundgren's latest album "2nd Wind" (Warner Bros.) - been played on MTV and VH-1, but the video is also being shown at computer-industry conventions to demonstrate the artistic applications of a revolutionary "video studio in a box."

"Change Myself" is four minutes of state-of-the-art computer animation. Rundgren wrote, directed and programmed it.

"It's something I'd always wanted to do," said Rundgren, who worked for six months with a new 3-D animation system to produce the video.

"Previously, to take on that project would have been too complicated and, more important, it would not have fallen within my budget. Then some recent developments came along; a piece of new hardware in particular - called a Video Toaster - which fits into an Amiga computer," Rundgren said.

The Toaster turns the Amiga 2500 personal computer into a video work station. It costs $1,600 and produces broadcast-quality digital editing effects, titles and "light-wave 3-D animation."

"I got 10 of those" Toasters, he said, laughing.

Rundgren's is the first MTV video to use the new desktop video technology, said Mark Randall, spokesman for Newtech Inc., which manufactures the Toaster. "And it's the most extensive use of the Toaster up till now," Randall said.

Rundgren takes his multimedia work seriously. For five years he has attended and been a contributor to Siggraph, the annual international computer-graphics conference. Rundgren reportedly puts all other projects on hold so he can attend.

The conference features lectures, panel discussions and exhibitions of such cutting-edge technologies as virtual reality and hypermedia. Rundgren delivered a lecture on "Integrating Music and Computers" at Siggraph '86. And his "Change Myself" is a probable contender for inclusion later this year in the conference's Electronic Theater segment, which has been called the Academy Awards of computer animation.

Rundgren first became involved with video in 1973, years before MTV was even a gleam in television's eye. "It was just an alternative art form I was interested in," he said. Inspired by the short video segments he saw on PBS's "The Electric Company," he began to make experimental tapes at home.

In 1979 he bought broadcast-quality equipment and began to work seriously in the form. "Some were promotional videos for music projects. Some were much more experimental. I put together a half-hour treatment of Tomita's version of Holst's "The Planets" for a demonstration of RCA's videodisc system (which later went bust). Channel 4 in England commissioned me to do an autobiographical video about my music."

Rundgren is pleased with "Change Myself." He has voiced interest in writing software for the Toaster, but, he said, "I'm not really interested in doing commercials for other people's records."

He added, "`Change Myself' represents a marriage of music and video projects I've been involved with for a while; it brings things around full circle and ties up loose ends. And, like the music I try to create, there's a deceptive amount of detail to it."

A devotee of the Apple Macintosh computer, Rundgren, with his associate David Levine, recently created the unusual computer-program "Flowfazer" ($49.45, available through Macintosh software dealers). He hopes people will use it in the same way as music - "for relaxation, for `chilling out,' for stimulating their imaginations."

"Flowfazer" turns the Macintosh into a vibrant psychedelic theater of light as it displays a constantly changing random pattern. And though most Mac users recognize "Flowfazer" as a beautiful screen saver (a display that prevents an image from being "burned" into a computer screen), others recognize it as computer art.

Those without a Macintosh can zone out to "Grokgazer" ($19.95, available through video retailers). "Grokgazer" is a videotape of Flowfazer screens with a whirring synthesizer soundtrack also by Rundgren. Think of it as "Flowfazer's Greatest Hits."

"We hope it transcends the idea of mere art," Rundgren said. "It works in the way that music is supposed to, but in a more intense way. . . . It's a simulation of a natural phenomenon. It's a primal thing. Like taking a walk by the ocean or meditation, it allows the viewer to disconnect from the linear lifestyle. It does all things drugs are supposed to do.

"With the drug war going on, we have to find substitute things - so we're filling in the gap."

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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