Yes' 1st Multimedia CD-ROM

YES goes multimedia! Sounds exciting! Last year in August, there was an announcement that YES would release a multimedia CD single for the low price of $6.95! Did it sound too good to be true? I'm afraid that it WAS. Somehow, YES or their record company decided to can the CD single and ended up replacing it with YES ACTIVE, a $24.99 full-fledged and full-priced CD-ROM that also contains 2 standard audios that can be played on your regular CD player ("State of Play" and "Where Will You Be".)

Of course, YES fans aren't going to pay $24.99 for just 2 songs. The exciting part would be the CD-ROM information, which can be accessed only by computers. A Macintosh LC with 8 megs or an IBM compatible 386 with 4 megs of RAM and Microsoft Windows is required. I can't really judge the performance on a Mac, but on a PC, don't try this with anything less than a 486DX-66 with 8 megs of RAM. And parts of it still run like a turtle on sleeping pills on my machine. The disk waits are maddeningly long, and for some stupid reason, (technical glitch, maybe), it spends a lot of time looking at my FLOPPY DISK DRIVES (Sorry YES, no CD-ROM in there!) and my removable Syquest drive (No, Windows is not there. Neither is the CD-ROM). So this slows down the program even more, since it's wasting a lot of time looking at floppy drives and Syquest drives, then it has to wait til the drives return a 'not ready' signal so it can go to the CD-ROM, where it should be going in the first place.

Once past these techie glitches, we can talk about the content. All of the disk is about YES' new album, Talk. It delivers everything the box says it would, like the entire album, video commentary, band profiles, lyrics, demos, alternate versions and rehearsal and performance footage. But, somehow, a YES fan can feel somewhat dissatisfied, like there should be more. It does contain the complete Talk album, but the music is in a format that is not accessible to regular CD players. Instead, you have to turn on the computer, load your CD-ROM drivers, load Windows, insert CD, start YES ACTIVE, go into the jukebox option and play the song. Oh, and you have to stay in the jukebox mode. You can't explore other areas of the CD-ROM while the jukebox is playing. The sound is filtered thru your sound card, not through the CD audio port. Even so, the sound coming through a 4 year-old, 8 bit mono Soundblaster is surprisingly good. It's just unfortunate that, with all of the advantages of high-end computers, you cannot make YES ACTIVE's jukebox behave like an audio CD player. Features like REV and FWD are non-existent, so if you felt like fast-forwarding over "Silent Spring" to get to "Talk", you're out of luck. Or if you wanted to play just one passage again, you would have to replay the entire song.

The video commentary is basically a small, TV-like screen within the main screen where band members talk about the inspiration behind various songs and perform a few of them, in full-motion video. The performance videos fade out prematurely. Maybe this was to discourage bootleggers. The sound did not exactly sync with the picture, and the ending of most of the commentary had been abruptly cut off. I don't think the problem is with my CD-ROM or my PC, because the video clips inside Microsoft's Cinemania synced just fine.

The band profiles section is basically a short list of pertinent facts (birthdate, hair color, eye color, hobbies, etc) with some extremely unflattering photos of the men in YES. Since there's only one photo apiece, one wonders why YES couldn't have chosen more or better photos of themselves to use in YES ACTIVE.

There are some demos of "State of Play" and "Endless Dream". Don't get too excited about "Endless Dream" though. This is an extremely early version, and only contains the last part (...So take your time, look 'round and see..." ) before Jon had come up with lyrics. So we end up hearing him sprout gibberish over ...a drum machine (?) and some very rudimentary musical backing. It's all actually very boring, and Jon's voice is not very good on the demo, sounding "harsh as an old raven" (phrase copped from Tolkien). Does YES always sound this bad when their songs are at this early of a stage? Other curiosities are instrumental versions of "Where Will You Be" and "Walls" (I'm surprised that they didn't save those for an upcoming title, YES Karaoke).

Probably the most useless feature of YES ACTIVE is Music Workshop. You can click on a picture of one of the band members and get a full screen, monochrome picture of him. For example, bring up Chris and click on different places on his bass and hear a few different, 3 second samples of his bass playing. If you click on the main body of his bass, you can see a 10 second video clip of "Roundabout". The novelty of this wears off quickly after the first viewing.

The last part is the discography and band history. Now here's where they dropped the ball. Instead of a colorful, interesting, informative and intelligently-designed merger of words, sight and sound, we get... straight text. There is nothing that is visually interesting in these sections. There isn't even any hyper-text linking or sound samples of older Yes songs. The discography is a straight, single-column listing of all of Yes' albums and songs, in no particular order. There's a few mistakes there, too. It lists "Awaken" as clocking in at 3:58. And, since the PgDn key does not function, you get to scroll down page after page of discography by clicking a mouse on a scroll bar. Sounds like fun?

The history is another straight, single-column text essay, with, again, no hyper-text links and no pictures. It is a little more interesting to read than the discography.

Well, so there we have it. Yes' first foray into the CD-ROM world. I'm afraid that this one is a bust. YES ACTIVE does not utilize multimedia in an intelligent manner. Instead, a CD-ROM is used to emulate a CD player with no REV or FWD controls and a mini-VCR. There was basically no attempt to integrate text, video, pictures, interviews and music. The "interactive" aspects of this disc are virtually nil. For a better example of true multimedia, look at Microsoft's Encarta or "The Cartoon History of the Universe". The sheer amount of data available on those discs is staggering. And they're more fun to play with. The $24.99 that you can save by not buying YES ACTIVE can be put to better use buying the Thomas Mosbo Yes book, a bootleg LP or CD, Talk on a regular CD or a real CD-ROM game.

[Special note for Yes collectors] Computer software goes "out of print" very quickly, so it is possible that YES ACTIVE may soon find a market niche as a collectors item. Someday, rabid Yes collectors that "must have everything" will be willing to pay high prices for this disc in order to complete their collections.

This article is Copyright 1995, K.F. Louie. May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.
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