Decades before you surfed the musical waves on Pandora and Spotify, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax envisioned a "global jukebox" that could publicly circulate the wealth of musical recordings he collected over years of fieldwork.
Who is Alan Lomax you ask? He was the preeminent musical folklorist in the United States whose 1930s field recordings in the American South introduced blues and folk music to a larger audience. He was the first to record Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie, and he is arguably responsible for the folk boom of the 1960s that delivered us among others, Bob Dylan. To put it mildly, he was paramount to that era's powder-keg of pop-music revolution.
And now Lomax's dream of a global jukebox is closer to fruition than ever with word that his vast archive — 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts — is being digitized so it can be made available online. By the end of February, 17,000 tracks of Lomax's recordings will be released for free streaming online.
Most interesting — from a tech standpoint — is that when personal computers became available, Lomax used them to develop methods for classifying music. In his quest to identify similarities among musical styles from around the world, Lomax's systems were quite similar to the algorithms used today by music streaming sites like Pandora.
"Alan was doubly utopian, in that he was imagining something like the Internet based on the fact he had all this data and a set of parameters he thought of as predictive,” Columbia University music professor, John Szwed told the New York Times. Swed in also the author of “Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World.”
“But" Lomax "was also saying that the whole world can have all this data too," Szwed added, "and it can be done in such a way that you can take it home."
Helping spearhead the global jukebox project is the Association for Cultural Equity. On Tuesday, on what would have been Lomax's 97th birthday, the Global Jukebox label released a sampler of 16 digital downloads called "The Alan Lomax Collection From the American Folklife Center."
[Via New York Times]
Credit: Shirley Collins