Sweet music to Sir Tallis's ear

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The Independent Online
I had hoped to bring you an important and revolutionary interview with John Major today, but it turns out there is no such thing, so I am obliged instead to conclude the science yarn which I started yesterday, called:

After Newton's Apple

(Story so far. Young scientist Toby Farthing is nervously walking up and down the college lawn with old Professor Sir Tallis Farlow, trying to ask him an important question. Sir Tallis, who looks as if he is trying to work out a few Nobel prize theories, is actually just worried about money.)

"So, what's this very important question you want to ask me?" said Sir Tallis, wondering as he did so how My Delight had got on in the 3.30 at Chepstow.

"Well, sir," said Toby Farthing nervously, "I've been working on your theory that things get invented or discovered in the correct order. That, for instance, the theory of evolution had to be discovered after gravity but before relativity. That, to come down a few notches, the stage coach had to precede steam locomotion, which in turn had to precede the internal combustion engine, and that land locomotion had to precede air flight ..."

"Yes, yes, there's no need to explain my own theory to me," said the old man testily, unaware, probably, of an author's need to keep the reader informed.

"Well, sir, it occurred to me that if the sequence of discoveries and inventions comes in a logical order, then there is no reason why one should not be able to predict how the sequence will continue in the future."

"Carry on," said the old man, thinking that what one really needed was a scientific method of predicting the result of horse races, although what really appealed to him in horse racing was the delightfully unpredictable and random nature of it. Chaos theory on four legs ...

"For instance, given the sequence of inventions in the field of sound recording, from cylinders through shellac 78s to long-playing plastic records, one should have been able to predict 20 years ago the coming of the compact disc and DAT tape."

"What would be the point of predicting it?"

"Well, if one knew the nature of the next invention, one could get there first by inventing it and making a huge fortune."

"Huge fortune, eh?" said Sir Tallis. "I like the sound of that. Tell me more."

"I've been programming the computer in the lab to look into the future of some technological avenues. There are some quite startling innovations to come, not least in the field of musical recording. The computer thinks that we are on the verge of the self-generating musi-disc."

"And what is that when it is at home?"

"It's a disc which, instead of replaying the music recorded on to it, actually has the built-in artificial intelligence to create a new version or a new take of the music each time. So, a record of a jazz group would play new solos each time. A pop group would have a different mix each time. An orchestral record would have different conducting styles, according to your instructions. Instead of buying, for instance, Sir Colin Davis's record of a Mozart symphony, you would just buy the basic symphony and the record would give you a different version every time."

"Jolly interesting," said the old man politely. Being tone deaf, he couldn't see what the young bloke was driving at.

"Anyway, I've been making a few inquiries," said Toby Farthing, "and although there has been some talk of such a device, the music industry is still five years away from any such breakthrough. So what I've done is to take the liberty of setting up a small company in order to patent this new invention, and to manufacture and exploit it. If this is the way the music industry is really going, then either we will make a fortune or the music industry will have to spend a fortune to buy us out."

"And where do I come into all this?" said the old man. "You still haven't asked me the question."

As if he didn't know. The young man was going to ask him for financial backing. Please, sir, would you like to sink some money into my scheme and throw it all away ... Sir Tallis Farlow groaned inwardly. He had no money to give anyone, only debts. His account at the bookmakers was in the red. He was overdrawn. He had a very expensive daughter living at home ...

"Well, sir," said Toby Farthing, unaccountably blushing. "I want to ask permission to marry your daughter."

Sir Tallis stared at the young man in surprise, then embarrassed both of them by throwing his arms round him and saying: "Take her, my boy, she's yours, and the sooner the better!"

If you would like to buy a stake in the new self-generating musi-disc, just send a blank cheque c/o this column.