Once again, Peter Gabriel is stretching himself as an artist. Roger Ridey talks to him about his new CD-Rom, the Internet and his future interactivities
Peter Gabriel sits on a sofa, clutching a cup of tea. Behind him half a dozen little Peter Gabriels stand motionless, clutching suitcases. The big Peter Gabriel and I are in the living-room in one of the cluster of stone buildings that make up his Real World Studios in the Wiltshire village of Box. The little Peter Gabriels are on a computer screen, but in another world altogether.

Their world is called Eve, a new CD-Rom that interweaves Gabriel's music with specially commissioned works by the contemporary artists Cathy de Monchaux, Yayoi Kusama, Nils-Udo and the late Helen Chadwick. It uses the story of Adam and Eve to create an interactive journey that explores "the eternal riddle of the relationship between man, woman and nature", as well as the creative process itself.

Developed by Real World in collaboration with Paul Allen's Starwave Corporation, Eve took a team of more than 60 people working on both sides of the Atlantic more than two years to complete. It seems certain to surpass Gabriel's first CD-Rom, Xplora 1 (more than 200,000 copies sold since its release in 1994) as the top-selling music-based CD-Rom.

At the time, Xplora was considered to be a breakthrough in interactive multimedia. Now, only three years on, it pales in comparison with the rich content of Eve. Some 22,000 images were used to create Eve's 160 screens, incorporating 80 minutes of video and 45 minutes of music.

"The difference between Xplora and Eve is that [the computers] people have in their homes are now faster and have more resources available, so you can do more things," Gabriel explains. "Having a lot more speed and memory has allowed us to realise more of the things that we dreamt of last time."

Stunning visual imagery and clever design aside, what really sets Eve apart are its "musical toys". In Eve, you wander through four virtual reality landscapes, each featuring the work of one of the contemporary artists and Gabriel's songs "Come Talk to Me", "Shaking the Tree", "In Your Eyes" and "Passion". The goal is to collect images and samples from previously unreleased versions of the songs. Once collected, you can remix the samples into your own song, with the images forming an accompanying video. These can then be uploaded to the Real World Website, from which other mixes created by people around the world can be downloaded.

"The idea of being able to get inside other people's work and start using it not just as a linear experience that you just sit back and receive but as a tool-kit that will allow you to become a creator is, I think, very exciting," Gabriel says.

"I see technology as a force that can be used negatively or positively, but in its positive context it is potentially empowering ... it can be so democratising."

He is also excited by the potential of the information superhighway. "I think there is an enormous amount of real social, political power that goes along with information ... and that people have a right to that information."

However, he is concerned that having to pay for local phone calls to Internet service providers and the imposition of VAT on access charges will keep Europeans in the slow lane. "I think it's hugely important that we get free access and that we don't have VAT," he says. "Without these things, Europe will slip back in the technology race."

When he released Xplora I three years ago, Gabriel, like many others, had great expectations that CD-Roms would take off in the same way that videos had a decade earlier. Things haven't quite worked out that way, but he isn't discouraged.

He admits that the market for multimedia "has died a death ... but I'm still the eternal optimist in thinking that there will be a spring at the other side of this winter, because more and more players are being sold and I think they will become a standard item on most computers."

Nor is he worried that in, say, another three years the CD-Rom itself will be out-dated technology, having been made obsolete by DVD-Roms or a format as yet undreamt of (when Xplora was released CD-i was going to be the next big thing). "In a sense, the actual vehicle is not so important. What is interesting is the content and the potential for interactivity," he says.

So whatever the format, Gabriel and Real World hope to be major players in the multimedia game. "I just see it as a natural extension of what I do anyway, and if it puts me in a situation where I'm with interesting minds who have their own body of interesting work and there is good brainstorming going on, that's exciting for me to be a part of."

As he speaks, the little Peter Gabriels remain motionless on the screen behind him. Suddenly his minder signals time and the big Peter Gabriel is off, back to the Real World. He doesn't intend to hang around with his suitcase, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with him

Eve, pounds 39.99, Real World Multimedia (http://www.realworld.on.net)