Give The Idea A 90--If You Can Dance To It

Back in the days when young Marc Canter danced along with the kids on "American Bandstand," he was confined to his living room, and the bands were confined to the box. Now Canter, an interactive innovator, is working on a 1990s version of "American Bandstand" that would bring the musicians right through the screen, where latter-day Marc Canters could dance, sing, jam and jive along.

After a string of successes in the computer-software industry, Canter next month will unveil MediaBand, a concept that, someday soon, could let any kid in America play with the band, script the video or rewrite the lyrics. If MediaBand works, it could mean a great leap forward for interactive media, big money for Canter-and a headache for a generation of parents who would prefer to recall Dick Clark but not live with him.

Canter, 36, seems to be the right guy to spearhead this movement. A self-described "software musician," he has been mixing media since his classical music training--cello, guitar, voice-- began at the age of 2. At Oberlin College in the 1970s, he created an intermedia major, combining visual and music arts and electronics; later he did sound and light work for a disco-entertainment outfit called Science Faction, and helped create a sequel to PacMan, Professor Pac-Man. But Canter leaped to prominence after the PC age dawned in 1984. He teamed up with a programmer and an artist to form what they called a "software rock-androll band"-black leather jackets and all. They named their start-up MacroMind, and it scored biggest with Director, which has helped transform publishing.

With MacroMind about to go public, Canter has left to launch a new company, San Francisco-based Canter Technology. Its sole product, MediaBand, he says, is ,'my holy grail." Canter envisions something vastly more ambitious than the "menu" of home-entertainment choices evoked by many in multimedia. He's talking home performance. MediaBand would combine features of live rock, MTV and karaoke, merging the audience with performers. At the June demo in Los Angeles--expected to be a hot ticket in the interactive world--Canter's team of musicians, performance artists and video producers will unveil a Macintosh CD-ROM prototype. Just stick it in your computer, and the concert begins. With a handheld keyboard, a listener could take over lead guitar, add special effects or, with a camcorder, splice herself onto center stage.

Nor is this the end of the vision. MediaBand is what Canter calls a "proof-of-concept project": a vehicle to attract investors and launch a new wave of products. MediaBand's handheld controllers, for instance, could one day allow toddlers to reach out to Mister Rogers or viewers to yell back at John McLaughlin. Or maybe get horribly confused: One-to-10, Mortahn, can King Friday save his throne?

There are some problems, however. One: how to avoid cacophony, to turn all that participation into music. The trick is to create "parameters," Canter says; electronic filters that harmonize the input. Another problem is hardware. MediaBand needs lots of power (the equivalent of seven Macintoshes) and equipment such as synthesizers that add up to a desktop recording studio. A marketable product isn't likely for four or five years.

Canter has confidence. "I want to be the Aaron Spelling of music videos," he says. A pity he doesn't aim higher: Phil Spector.