Neil Young rocks JavaOne

At JavaOne, rocker Neil Young shows off his multimedia project that chronicles his music career--and uses Java.

Dan Farber
4 min read

Editor's note: News.com's Dan Farber reported Young's keynote speech and a follow-up Q&A live from JavaOne.

SAN FRANCISCO--At JavaOne here, Neil Young showed off his multimedia project that chronicles his music career and uses Java to do so.

Neil Young and Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz Dan Farber/CNET News.com

Young said he tried to do the project on DVD, but users couldn't watch the high-resolution video and listen to the music at the same time. With Java and Blu-ray, the content can be updated and offer the best viewing and listening experience, as well as great navigation and design. "Storage is the only limit," Young said, and recommended the Sony's PlayStation 3 as the best way to view his project.

Users will be able to download any archival materials, which are automatically assigned to their place in a chronological time line, Young said.

In a meeting with a few press members following the JavaOne keynote, Young talked about the Archive project, which goes back to the late 1980s. The first stage, he said, was collecting the materials.

"I am kind of a pack rat," he said, adding that over the years he's accumulated a lot of unreleased material. "I only give the record company what I want people to hear at the time. So I have a lot of unreleased material. Putting it all together tells a much different story than just what has been produced (for public consumption)."

The compilation of the unpublished clips helps show Young's musical evolution, the effects of success, and the ups and downs, he said. In the beginning, he said, he was nervous and talked a lot, but was very focused on singing his songs. "I'd make a lot of jokes and then sing a tear-jerker song."

Young was asked how music and technology go together. "There is a lot of math; it is emotional math," he replied.

Larry Johnson, of Shakey Films (which works on all of Young's films), said Young had the concept for his latest project on paper 15 years ago. About two years ago, they put the footage all together and waited for the Blu-ray HD-DVD fight to end.

"We are cramming the disc full with every feature we can," Young said.

They started off envisioning it to be something like a video game, a "3D tumbling experience through time," he said. "You could see the history of the world and other great performances through time. It would be a nice thing to do. Hopefully we will get this approach done, but by the time we are halfway through, it will morph."

"Putting on a headphone and listening to MP3 is like hell."
--Neil Young

"The recording business as we know it is changing. As an artist I try to remove myself from the business," Young said. "I steer myself away from that...the commerce of distributing music will work itself out."

He added: "We are trying to give them quality whether they want it or not. You can degrade it as much as you want, we just don't want our name on it." People are taking music and doing whatever they want with it, he said. "The laws don't matter. These are people in their bedroom doing what they want. It's the new radio."

Young said you can't be "scared or paranoid about trying to survive." Sure, when the digital revolution came along, it was "like getting hit with icepicks." Now, he said, the ice is tiny, maybe a little like snow.

That said, he's clearly not a fan of MP3 quality: "Putting on a headphone and listening to MP3 is like hell," he said.

Of course, digital and multitrack recordings in the '80s didn't sound so great either. The sound was shallow, he said. Now, he said, audio quality is climbing, though he still makes all his recordings in analog. "I plan to dumb my analog to the higher level so masses can enjoy it," he said.

Besides music, Young is working with engineers and developers to create a car that doesn't require roadside refueling. He is working with a variety of developers and scientists to develop a large, American-style car that doesn't require fossil fuels. "I have trained myself to take this on," he said.

"America is full of big people; it's a huge country and the wind blows. I don't want to have cars blown off the road with high winds," Young said. "We work with aerodynamics, and there's the X Prize effortto get 100 miles per gallon." Scientists are working on interesting concepts such as cars running on compressed air with stackable motors on the wheels, he said. Other solutions are more fringe.

"It's very kooky. People say you are nuts but I am used to that," he said. "People are so paranoid about the power establishment. That's what they think about when you come up with an idea that is going to bring change."

Young said that he wasn't interested in the Tesla, a sporty and expensive electric car. "The Tesla isn't ready to buy yet--you have to plug it in," he said.

Young said that he is an "overseer" more than carrying on a day-to-day role in his electric car project.

He lauded the Internet because it's a great place to find science experts all over the world. "People who are just kooks," he said. "You have to filter and separate and look on the perimeter of scientific world and give them encouragement."

Young is planning to chronicle the damage cars are doing to the environment and the development of a car that doesn't require roadside fueling in a new movie. The car will be wired to the gills, with all kinds of sensors and cameras feeding data, Young said.

On surveillance, Young said, "Surveillance society is out of control. There is nothing you can do. You can fight it...there will be an ongoing battle for privacy."