On the computer table in Todd Rundgren's Sausalito, Calif., home, next to his Mac, lies a copy of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. Asked why he has the philosophy opus at hand, Rundgren explains that he's wedged it in above his external hard drive to get rid of noisy vibrations. ''It was just the right height.''
That's Rundgren, a visionary musician grounded in nuts and bolts. The composer of such hits as ''Hello It's Me'' and ''Bang the Drum All Day'' is one of the few well-known performers capable of not only steering interactivity into homes but also tinkering under the hood. He's now updating technology he introduced on No World Order, his 1993 CD-ROM, which lets listeners adjust the mood, tempo, and other features of an album. Rundgren, 46, expects to debut the software his year, but not initially on his upcoming CD, The Individualist; he's securing the rights to others' albums. ''If I'm going to do another (interactive release),'' he says, ''it should demonstrate to people that I'm not the only artist who can utilize this technology.''
Despite his interest in new media, Rundgren complains that while the Internet has served as a ''big megaphone'' for many people worth hearing, it has also ''given boneheads platforms that they didn't have before.'' He isn't avoiding boneheads altogether, though. Rundgren composed the score for Dumb and Dumber (''It was just a gig; I have no desire to become successful in Hollywood''). And he wants to spread his version of interactive media to a wider audience. ''I think most people have a passive component,'' he says. ''They want a title to be able to start up and go to the end by itself, but the user at any particular time can hijack the train.'' Spoken like a true prophet.