Neil Young is putting his past on Blu-ray

Brandon Bailey
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

Rebellious rocker Neil Young hates the sound of compact discs. So he waited 15 years for a different technology, which he says will allow him to share his life's work the way he wants his fans to enjoy it.

Starting this fall, Young plans to release a comprehensive archive of music, videos and other material dating back to 1963 on a series of interactive Blu-ray discs, which he demonstrated last week for several thousand software developers and tech enthusiasts at Sun Microsystems' JavaOne conference in San Francisco.

"It's the history of a creative process, the development of my music and actually of my life," Young said after the demo. "It's interactive and online, and it will grow."

The project could signal a broader use of the high-definition technology known as Blu-ray, which was developed with Sun's Java programming language, and which emerged earlier this year as the global standard for high-performance video from Sony and other companies.

It's unclear how many fans will have the equipment, and the time, to enjoy such a comprehensive archive. Young said he hopes fans will spend hours exploring an interactive timeline, playing classic hits and unreleased tracks, while examining contemporaneous films, photos, recording notes and other documents.

With up to 50 gigabytes of storage, Blu-ray discs have five to 10 times the capacity of DVDs, which in turn can hold far more material than CDs. Young, who lives on a ranch in San Mateo County, Calif., is planning a series of five volumes, each consisting of 10 discs. He promised that fans will be able to download additional material from the Internet as it becomes available.

At least as important, Young said, the collection will represent an alternative to what he characterized as the tyranny of inferior sound. Blu-ray developers say their technology provides far superior audio quality as well as high-definition video.

"CD quality is very low resolution, maybe a step above MP3s. It was a crime to make that the standard for so many years," he said, complaining that music fans were forced to accept CDs because they were marketed as an inevitable and necessary new format.

"It was the Patriot Act of music," he said, drawing laughs.

Reminded that many music fans these days download and play songs on portable MP3 players, Young said: "My heart goes out to them."

But the 62-year-old rocker acknowledged that most consumers don't have Blu-ray equipment yet. Analysts say Sony and other companies have sold about 1 million Blu-ray players, while Apple has reported selling more than 150 million iPods. Sony has also sold about 3 million PlayStation 3 game consoles, which have Blu-ray capability, as Young pointed out.

He did not rule out the possibility that the songs, dating back to his early days in a Canadian band called the Squires, might be released in other formats. "I'm not interested in making MP3s, but I'm not going to say to Apple: `No, I'm not going to let you issue MP3s.'"

Young, in a cap and sunglasses, appeared on stage with Sun Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz and praised the technology that Young said enabled him to complete a project he first envisioned 15 years ago.

But the artist, whose long line of hits - from "Cinnamon Girl" to "Rockin' in the Free World" - includes a song in which he vowed never to shill for a sponsor, told reporters that Sun is not sponsoring his project.

"I'm actually plugging myself," Young said of his appearance. "They've enabled me to do something I've wanted to do for a long time. I feel like it's a good thing to acknowledge that."

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