Peter Gabriel is back from a 10 year absense and has released a new album Up. While Gabriel himself is pretty far down the pipeline in so far as relevant artists go, he has found some interesting ways to make this release more significant than most.

For starters this is (supposedly) the first ever album recorded in 5.1 surround sound. Audio media up to and including the Compact Disc only have two channels to work with but newer media encompasses more. The new formats DVD Audio and Super Audio CD both have the ability to do (at least) 5.1 surround sound and while some existing titles have been remastered, reprocessed and rereleased in 5.1, Up is (supposedly) the first to be produced and recorded with 5.1 in mind. Of course the regular CD version only has the two channels.

The other new concept that can handle 5.1 surround sound is, oddly enough, Windows Media Player 9 Series, currently in beta. Of course few people own 5.1 capable PC setups but Microsoft is hoping that they can spur on the notion by providing the content for the need in hardware. They currently feature the album as a free download with digital rights management (DRM). Most people cringe when they hear DRM and with good reason – it basically controls how you’re able to use and handle files on your own PC. Picture if you will that you download an MP3 and then when you give it to your friend, (s)he is unable to play it. Neither can you, if you have to reformat your hard drive. However, I’ve downloaded and investigated this release and while I can’t see it right now becoming the norm, I do see a lot of concession to people’s wants. You download the file and after a short song and dance you can start playing it. You see images, links, lyrics – it’s nice. This particular release lets you play it until the cows come home – for two weeks. After two weeks you’re unable to listen to it unless you pay for it. Sure, it’s not MP3 so you can’t give the files to anyone and I’m not sure what if any logistics regarding backing up the files are but you can transfer the album to a portable device if your device supports Windows Media (and apparently a growing number do) and – the part I found most interesting – you can burn the music you buy to a CD. This feature alone is something none of the “sanctioned” download services offer (as far as I know). Sure, this isn’t going to “solve” the problem with P2P and piracy, but for those that claim to download music only to see if you like it before buying it – now you can put your money where your mouth is.

So, given the fact that this is one of the most technologically advanced music releases in recent memory, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to buy Up on vinyl.