Friday, August 17, 2007

Compact Discs turn 25!

ABBAOn August 17, 1982, the first commercially produced compact disc was created by Philips, marking the beginning of the digital age for consumers worldwide. Unfortunately, this historic event is tied to a mediocre album by a band that had already "jumped the shark" by the 1980's. ABBA's "The Visitors" would turn out to be their last studio album.

Development of the Compact Disc Digital Audio format began in 1979 as a collaboration between Philips and Sony. The resulting "Red Book" specification defines the format as 44.1k, 16-bit, stereo (no mono for audiobooks or older recordings), a maximum of 99 tracks per disc, a minimum of 4 seconds per track, and a maximum total program time of 74 minutes. Compact discs that drift outside of these specifications are not strictly permitted to display the official compact disc digital audio logo. This includes all discs with multimedia content and those which exceed the 74-minute time limit.

ABBA is properly spelled in all-caps because it is an acronym made up of the first letter of each member's given name -- Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid (Frida). When the group decided they needed a proper name in early 1973, "ABBA" was suggested initially as a joke because it is also the name of a well known Swedish fish cannery. They would eventually negotiate with the cannery for the international rights to the name. The first "B" in their registered trademark logo is backwards for symmetry and was used from 1976 onwards.

The maximum program time of the compact disc, according to legend, was to ensure that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony could fit on a single disc in its entirety.

The individual members of ABBA had already attained a certain amount of either commercial or critical success as musicians well before the band formed, making them almost a "super group" right from the start. Agnetha in particular had a #1 song in Sweden in 1967 and released four pre-ABBA solo albums. Anni-Frid also released a critically praised pre-ABBA solo album simply titled "Frida".

Although the discs themselves are identical, Compact Disc Digital Audio (Red Book) and Compact Disc Digital Data (Yellow Book) formats are very different. Red Book discs have very little redundancy and error-correction capabilities because single-bit read errors are not considered critical in audio reproduction. Yellow Book defines much more redundant information which makes the discs hold far less "data" than "audio". If you were to "rip" a 74-minute audio CD to your hard drive as PCM data (.WAV), the resulting file could not then be written to a 74-minute blank CDR as data because it would be far too large.

ABBA's last public performance was in January 1986 when they recorded a video of themselves performing an acoustic version of "Tivedshambo" in honor of their manager's 55th birthday. Their last known appearance together was at another birthday party for one of their mutual friends in 1999, although no video is known to exist.

In 2005, Sony/BMG scored a huge public relations blunder by hiding an auto-running "rootkit" trojan on their commercially distributed audio CD's in an attempt to thwart audio piracy. Whenever one of these discs are inserted into the CD-ROM drive of a Microsoft Windows-based computer (Windows 95 or later) with the default autorun settings, a program would be installed that was designed to interfere with CD "ripping" programs. This prompted multiple class-action lawsuits and Sony was eventually forced to recall all of the CD's that were distributed with this system. The United States Federal Trade Commission eventually ruled that Sony had violated federal law by automatically installing software without proper disclosure to their customers, resulting in a settlement which includes a reimbursement program for consumers up to $150 per affected system. In 2007, Sony finally decided to file their own lawsuit against the company that had designed the anti-piracy system and licensed it to them in the first place.

The ABBA tribute band "Björn Again" was formed in Australia in 1988 and has proven to be more long-lived than the original band by a considerable margin. The demand for their performances has been so great that there have been as many as five different incarnations of "Björn Again" touring simultaneously all over the world, making them by far the most successful tribute band in history. To date, they have performed more than 5000 concerts in over 70 countries.

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2 comments:

paisley said...

oh great... now i really feel old... thanks a lot...

Markoni said...

Maybe this will cheer you up...

My best friend in high school was expecting to get a CD player for Christmas so I bought him "Dark Side of the Moon". The next time I visited him, I happened to notice that the CD was sitting on his turntable. He didn't get the CD player so he thought he'd try to play the disc the old-school way!

Doh!

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