Schott/DG's CD-pluscore Raises Bar for Interactive Music

Enhanced Compact Discs (ECDs) are one of a host of hybrids and mutations popping up in the garden of digital infotainment. Many ECDs have added biographical text, still pictures, short video clips, and garish graphics to bulk up the content of basic music CDs. Others provide links to fan clubs, to an artist's website, or to the record label's home page. Most such efforts could be categorized as "art for art's sake"---experimental projects undertaken without any clear idea as to how the finished product will be used. "Value added" is usually the justification, but rarely the result.

Until now. The venerable German music publisher Schott Musik International has teamed up with classical record label Deutsche Grammophon to produce a series of Enhanced CDs with enormous added value for musicians, teachers, music students, and serious hobbyists alike. The new product, dubbed CD-pluscore, is a music recording that can be played on any normal disc player. But drop it into a computer's CD-ROM drive and the recording's musical score appears onscreen, with access to biographical information, performance data, and musicological analyses.

Users of CD-pluscore will be able to play along with famous musicians, adding their own notations on the score if they wish---notations that are stored as files to be brought up when needed, without altering the musical performance. The score can also be printed out. Text and illustrations provide "a mass of background information for the interested listener, who will discover more about the composer and performing artist," according to Schott's informational website. The company claims that CD-pluscore is the "first successful synthesis of the latest computer technology" with high-quality sound "that will satisfy the most demanding audiophile."

The project has been in development for almost a year. The first disc of the series was released in April, a live recording from 1997 of pianist Maurizio Pollini performing three Beethoven piano sonatas, Opp.22, 26, and 53. The score was synchronized to the performance by hand, bar by bar, according to Schott Musik's multimedia division manager Katya Kratzer. She noted that, apart from his phrasing, Pollini did not improvise on the score, or miss any notes during the recording. "It's really amazing how you can synchronize Pollini's playing to the score," she said. Pollini's Beethoven CD-pluscore is priced similarly to other DG releases, as will be all future releases in the new format.

Upcoming releases will include embedded MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) files that will let users take a more active role in playing the music. Planned features include the capacity for assigning various parts to MIDI-enabled instruments, or deleting a solo in order to play it oneself, or slowing the tempo of a piece in order to memorize it note by note---an idea that Pollini nixed for his first interactive disc. He didn't want anybody altering his performance.