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Thursday, November 9, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Symphony Rocks The Net -- Classical Music Meets Rock 'N' Roll In Cyberspace

Seattle Times Music Critic

----------------------------------------------------------------- Concert preview

Cyberian Rhapsody, with the Seattle Symphony, Matt Cameron of Soundgarden, Geoff Tate of Queensryche and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees, 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, Paramount Theatre; $18.50-$500, 628-0888 (proceeds benefit United Way). Free on the Internet at Web site http://www.theparamount.com /intertainet/ ----------------------------------------------------------------- It's coming! It's going to be "truly momentous"! It's going to be "an unparalleled live performance and technology extravaganza that must be experienced to be believed"!

But what is the Cyberian Rhapsody, a Seattle Symphony Orchestra performance set for tomorrow night at the Paramount Theatre and at Internet computer terminals worldwide?

The concert part is fairly straightforward. At 7:30 tomorrow night, music director Gerard Schwarz will give the downbeat for a symphonic program whose first half consists of Glinka's "Russlan and Ludmilla" Overture, Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Revueltas' "Sensamaya," and the third movement ("Volcano") of Hovhaness' "Mount St. Helens" symphony. The second half of the concert is the four-movement suite, Cyberian Rhapsody, which consists of arrangements of Seattle-based rock music by Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Heart, Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Kenny G, David Lanz, Nirvana, Queensryche, Screaming Trees and Soundgarden.

The arrangements were written by American composer William Thomas McKinley, which offers hope they'll turn out to be more than merely Muzak.

For those of us who are still Internet holdouts - and there's a lot of us - the rest of the concept is more mysterious. The whole idea of a live concert on your home computer is a bit boggling.

Craig Ragland, director of multimedia for Seattle Landmark Association (the nonprofit agency that operates the Paramount) describes the event as "the bleeding edge, not just the cutting edge, of technology." He warns that the quality of your online Cyberian Rhapsody experience will vary with the quality of your equipment. You need a high-speed modem (or better yet, an all-digital ISDN phone line), decent speakers, an Internet provider, the software that allows you to browse the Net's World Wide Web, and software that you download beforehand from the Web site.

"The highest quality, of course, is the live event at the theater, where high-performance computers feed amazing digital visuals onto large overhead screens while the symphony plays. We have multimedia teams creating original images both for the event and on the Internet site. But you have to remember the Internet right now is not capable of doing anything but low-quality bad TV. It's not like watching a video.

"What you'll see will be custom original multimedia visuals by three media development companies, EPG Multimedia, XSI MeDia and Center for Multimedia. It's like choreography, if you will. On your computer, you can interact with these visuals while the music plays."

Ragland thinks this event is "one of those breakthrough things for the Internet: There's enough incentive here for people who are either big symphonic fans or big rock music fans to finally get on the Internet. It's the last straw on the camel's back."

He knows, however, that the more people hop aboard, the slower and less satisfactory the Internet becomes: "It's a Catch-22. The more successful we are, the lower the quality of what you'll experience online."

What you won't find online is the first half of the concert, the classical portion. Visual components have been developed only for the four-movement Cyberian Rhapsody piece.

When the concert starts at the Paramount, only a warm-up intro will be available at the Web site. About an hour later, and until about Feb. 1, the Cyberian Rhapsody segment will be available, both in real time and at a time of your choosing. You can browse the visual content, which contains thematic imagery relating to the lyrics, while listening to the audio content - an experience Ragland likens to "watching the game on TV with the sound down and the radio sound up."

Even Internet buffs concede, however, that for the present there's no replacing the live concert experience.

"You get virtually unlimited bandwidth at the live event," Ragland says.

"At home, even with a $10 million virtual-reality computer system, you still don't have the reality of social interaction. Virtual reality is not what being human is about."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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