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Live Wired

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Performing live from your computer drive, it’s the Rolling Stones, Hootie & the Blowfish, Sting, and the Smashing Pumpkins. By bringing the global village to the domestic cocoon, real-time webcasting unites the two most potent metaphors for ’90s living.

The competition to bring live music and radio to your PC is shaping up to be fierce. Microprocessor giant Intel is betting on its new Intercast technology (which piggybacks a high-bandwidth multimedia signal onto a TV broadcast), while RealAudio (the first company to offer ”streaming audio” that modem users could hear as it downloads) is now delivering FM-quality stereo to dial-up users.

For now, though, live sound quality on the Web is as tinny as AM radio, and many doubt that even with improvements the PC will be — as Intel’s Adam Grossberg hopes — ”the entertainment medium people go to.” Says Carl Malamud, whose Internet Multicasting Service in 1993 made Geek of the Week, the Net’s first long-form audio program: ”Like TV didn’t replace radio, [the Web] will take its place alongside radio.”

Guess David Bowie hasn’t been talking to Malamud. Last month, the Thickening White Duke released his latest single, ”Telling Lies,” only on the Web (at http://www.davidbowie.com). Despite record labels’ equivocations about copyright issues, says Michael Goldberg, editor in chief of the music webzine Addicted to Noise (www.addict.com), Bowie’s venture may someday go from a one-artist, 11,000-downloads-a-day trickle to an industry-wide flood of online releases — most likely for a fee. ”Record execs would like nothing better than to sell a record electronically, not to have manufacturing costs, and cut out the distribution,” he says. ”They’d be in heaven.”

Hopefully, though, high-quality sound on the Web will expand more than major labels’ profit margins. After all, Malamud points out that simply listening to music on your computer, even in real time, is no feat. ”You can do that on the radio, and it’s cheaper,” he says. ”Streaming audio joins images and text and intelligent little Java applets. And by putting all those together, you have a new medium.”

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