So I've Heard: A Collector's Guide to Compact Discs

By Murray, Russell E., Jr. | Notes, December 1996 | Go to article overview

So I've Heard: A Collector's Guide to Compact Discs


Murray, Russell E., Jr., Notes


By and large, musical hypermedia programs have tended to explore individual works. Typically, such a package will comprise an essay providing musical and cultural background to the piece and biographical information about the composer, along with a guided reading (or readings) of the work. In addition, a glossary tied to highlighted words in the text provides definitions and often musical examples. Aimed at a broad audience, these programs might be seen as popular monographs to be appreciated at a number of levels.

More recently, the potential of the hypermedia and CD-ROM formats has been utilized for presentations of entire repertories of one sort or another, especially in college music appreciation textbooks. These programs usually provide simple listening guides to pieces in the recorded anthology and often are keyed to the listening charts in the textbook.

These two formats, the first narrative and the second reportorial, begin to meet in newer applications that take advantage of the narrative ability (linear and nonlinear) of hypermedia's book/cardstack metaphor along with the unencumbered possibilities of combining multiple pieces and performances on a single CD. Robert Winter demonstrates this potential with his Crazy for Ragtime (Calliope Media, 1996), in which the history of an entire genre is explored musically and culturally.

The items trader review participate in this new trend. They share a common purpose, that of serving as an introduction to a repertory by providing information in a narrative form accompanied by excerpts of works to guide the user to more extended listening. There is much promise in this approach, especially in exploring carefully delineated repertories, and one can envision guides to a composer's entire output or the career of an individual performer along with explorations of historic or stylistic repertories. But as is often the case, early attempts may fail to live up to a medium's potential, for any number of reasons. Such is the case with these two items. At the same time, their failures say much about the possibilities and the limitations of this new genre.

Attica's An Introduction to Classical Music is the more modest of the two packages, designed, in the words of its producers, as a "highly pleasurable way of exploring the world of classical music." The program is divided into six discrete sections: "Introductory Guide," "Performance," "Composition," "Composer," "Timeline," and "Index." The "Introductory Guide" is a quick overview of "Classical" music. It is essentially a static electronic slide show: representative paintings and drawings are accompanied by a narration and musical background. There is no ability to navigate within this section save to pause or move to the next screen. One can go to the selection being played, but cannot then reenter the narrative where it was left.

The core elements of the package are the "Composition" and "Composer" sections. These sections are made up of screens with information on the composer or one of his works, along with a list of recommended listening (with recorded excerpts marked and accessible) and a listing of all the recorded excerpts or composers on the disc (also accessible).

The "Performance" section is designed as a virtual concert hall. The reader can program a selection of the 909 excerpts by choosing a combination of periods, composers, and genres. The excerpts are then played either randomly or chronologically. During the performance, the listener views a painting of a generic European concert hall while the title and composer appear on the screen. American users will no doubt associate this with late night advertisements for phone-order "World's Most Beloved Music" recordings. It is an apt association, given the stultifyingly dull nature of the performances. Most are one- to two-minute excerpts with fadeouts, but some are one-minute condensations of entire movements (e.g., a fifty-nine second arrangement of the first movement of Mozart's Symphony in G minor, K. …

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