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The CD that stood up and roared

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The CD that stood up and roared

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

Christmas is the time of year when big surprises come in small packages, like the one I opened in the office mail the other day. It held a compact disc unlike any I had seen or heard before.

First of all, it's not just an audio recording, although it's one of the best-sounding CDs I've ever heard. Second, it's anti-social in the worst possible way. The first time you play it, you could fry every roving electron in your hi-fi set because the first track of the CD contains the most horrible noise ever created.

And, finally, the thing I got in the mail is probably a new kind of press release, one that you play instead of read.

If this is, indeed, what this recording represents, I'll have to accept the embarrassment.

Whatever it is, the CD called "Innovations" is the most exciting and most fascinating recording I have heard in months. It arrived, as we say in this business, over the transom, in a daily pile of press effluvia, and would have remained where it landed—in the wastebasket—were it not for a message on the back of the CD box that caught my attention as I was handing over the trash can to my office recycling collector.

"ATTENTION: Music starts on track 2," it said. A test disc, maybe? I rescued the CD and stuck it in a drawer. Two weeks later, I finally had a chance to listen to it. My stereo set has never been the same since.

But I wish I had not followed my old habit of playing a new CD before reading the liner notes, and I especially wish I had not turned the volume up.

As soon as the "Track 1" notice appeared on the display window of my CD player, the eight woofers, four midrange drivers and 10 tweeters in my main loudspeaker system announced their pending retirement in the loudest and ghastliest noise I have ever heard in my listening room.

Our cat disappeared, and our prized Amazon parrot began gasping and shouting "Whut? Whut?" over and over.

In my typical suavity, I whacked the top of the CD player as hard as I could in an attempt to save the lives and reputations of my loudspeakers, and the player coughed and gurgled and went silent.

But before I could reach the power switch, "Track 2" lit up on the player's screen, and an amazing sound filled the room. My monster amp had reset itself, my loudspeakers had deferred their departure, and I forgave the company that issued the CD—WordPerfect Corp.—for all the trauma.

Yes, you read that right: WordPerfect, as in word processors and computers.

One of the most sensational CDs you can play comes from the folks who bring you function keys and spell checkers.

The CD was released to call attention to a new version of the company's highly regarded word-processing program.

The music on the CD—rock, Bach, fusion and funk—has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the software.

But the connection between the software and the mysterious Track 1 became obvious when I put the CD into a different kind of player.

On a CD-ROM drive attached to a computer, Track 1 turned into a demonstration of—you guessed it $-$ a certain company's new word-processing software.

Some regular CD players just ignore anything that's not music on a CD. But most older players and many new ones will behave as mine did if you try to play Track 1.

Take my advice: Don't! The computer stuff on that track is likely to wallop your woofers quicker than you can say "repair bill" three times fast.

The music, however, is as exciting as you'll find on any regular CD. The credit goes to Sam Cardon, Kurt Bestor, the Combined Salt Lake City Choirs, the Salt Lake Children's Choir and many others.

As for the unwanted noise, WordPerfect could have done a much better job of warning hi-fi fans of impending disaster. There's a blue-green embossed area at the bottom of the CD label with a warning in type so tiny that even elves couldn't read it. The warning should have been displayed in large type on the label, and should have been printed on the liner card, also.

Innovators is free for the asking. If you can't find a copy at a store that sells WordPerfect software, call WordPerfect at 800-321-4566.

Note: WordPerfect later told all callers the CD was not free for the asking, and was not even available to the public.

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