Who Says Nintendo Has to Win?
(see comments below by Ikutaro Kakehashi, President and Founder of Roland)

(Published in NewMedia July, 1995)


Phil Hood

Bob Doyle, NewMedia's digital video guru and a man of fearsome intelligence and conviction, sums up his technological motivations in the phrase, "Give kids tools, not toys." What he means is too much processing power is devoted to toys. He says, "Let's do something better." With computers as powerful as they are, he believes we should be teaching kids how to make their own music and video -- how to create, not how to reach endorphin highs by blowing away imaginary enemies. What is needed to empower kids -- and adults for that matter -- to make their own television shows, their own musical compositions, their own fine art? There are plenty of computer tools for creating art and music but most are for professionals. Some of the products that professional artists use in authoring, animation, audio and video present steep-to-impossible learning curves for amateurs. Frequently these programs use interfaces based on terms and techniques that require skills that users learned in an analog domain, and they remain an obstacle to people's ability to experience the creative process firsthand. But some products offer a glimpse of a better world. My favorite example is common: PowerPoint. Microsoft hit upon an idea-Wizards-that takes the average Joe or Jane much further down the road of creativity. Using templates and outlines, Wizards guides not only the design of slides but the development of the information in a presentation. This is anything but a crutch. We all learn by doing, and with Wizards' performance support any novice can learn presentation concepts as well as vital organizational skills. This idea is taken even further in a new product from Blue Ribbon Soundworks. At Comdex the company showed AudioActive, a program that allows users to create musical segments by specifying parameters that are not only musical but "emotional": The user can dial in 30 seconds of "sad" music ending on an upbeat and the program builds it. One can easily imagine how, by adding traditional teaching materials, working with this program could quickly teach complex musical ideas and give students the powerful experience of creating for themselves. Ikutaro Kakehashi, the president of Roland Corp., shares Bob Doyle's hunger for empowering the average citizen. He presents the problem of art like this: Most everyone in the world loves music. It is as essential to human culture as language. Yet most of the instruments that a person can learn require years of study to enter that state of proficiency that Kakehashi calls "music paradise." The usual paths to sonic heaven are either traditional music education or playing in a garage band. Most people who take up musical instruments quit before reaching paradise. Today there is a new course: desktop music composition. The computer has a key strength that is particularly important to learning music: It is a non-real-time teaching tool. Armed with an undo command and the computer's ability to shift actions out of real time (by slowing down music or using MIDI sequencers), every computer user becomes a programmed learner, able to repeal his actions easily and quickly and try again until it's right. Software that provides expert help and lets you experience the creation process firsthand would go a long way to improving your chances of reaching musical nirvana. To a degree, this has already happened in Japan. There is a thriving market of people using computers to create their own original music-there are even several magazines and large organizations that support more than 1 million people making music on computers. People trade MIDI compositions and recordings and use home-produced music to entertain friends. Critics would say that this kind of market is unique to Japanese culture, like karaoke. But one can find karaoke bars in many parts of the world. And it is hard to dispute Kakehashi when he expounds, "This music is not Japanese. Music is in the human heart. And we are all the same in our hearts." Expanding interfaces and software capability is the key to getting more people involved in music and in multimedia. Roland is not unaware of the commercial possibilities of widespread artistic literacy. The company already has one product, a program called DoReMix, that helps users experience musical composition. It's a simple program that allows you to drag and drop instruments into "tracks" and then play them back as a composition. Like similar products it lacks the power to do very much -- it can't even change keys -- but you can definitely get an identifiably musical experience out of DoReMix in minutes. We can imagine powerful 3-D interfaces that will allow anyone to interact directly with compositional elements. In such an environment, where creating music or editing video may be no more difficult than operating a joystick, the educational possibilities are endless. Roland, for one, is planning video and audio products that will make artistic creation as easy as possible. Who knows, if the products are interesting enough, kids won't have time for Mortal Kombat anymore. They'll be creating instead of destroying.

This document can be found online at:http://www.newmedia.com/NewMedia/95/7/edwin/WhoSaysNintendoHastoWin.html

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