EOL Review of "World Beat"

CD-ROM cover

The Sights, Sounds and Video of "World Beat,"
a CD-ROM from Medio Multimedia Inc. 1994

Navigating | Target audience | Discography | Selections

It is no surprise to find that with the development of multimedia computer technology and CD-ROMs there should soon follow some attempts to sample the rich resources of the world's music and to get them into a format which, like Microsoft's "Encarta," could make this wealth of material accessible to some portion of the world's millions of home computer owners.

However, as anyone who has used it knows, "Encarta" is not the Encyclopedia Britannica, and although "Encarta" contains some fascinating images and a few sounds, beyond the basics of maps, populations, basic information on the world's most famous institutions, and people, it does not, nor can it, serve as a resource for research, much beyond the level required for a high school term paper. Although the amount of data which can be crammed onto a CD-ROM disk is limited, this one has a whopping 565MB. Still, trying to compress information about all the world's music onto a single CD requires that the information be presented only in a general and one would hope, carefully planned way.


The "World Beat" MedioCD-ROM is an attempt to combine sound, video, graphic and textual information on a number of the world's musics. This CD appeared late in 1994 as a part of number of offerings by the Medio Magazine enterprise. Only by searching through the various readme files contained on the CD does one discover that the main editor for the CD was Warren Sirota, assisted by a team. The program opens on a central navigational page. The center of the page is a rotating globe which can be stopped and clicked on for locating information on some part of the world.

Along the right margin of this main page are a number of icons; an interactive documentary--actually a narrated guided tour of some of the audio, graphic and video materials included on this CD: a " Style List," a "book," (the entire scanned-in text of all the articles in Elizabeth May's Music of Many Cultures), a "Discography," perhaps the most valuable item on the CD, of which more below, and a "Music Studio," consisting of a number of pages of a few measures in Western notation and in MIDI sound, of short sections of music typical of a few selected cultures. The Music Studio pages, although not useful as resources for ethnomusicologists, might be useful for music educators who wish to dissect and reconstruct different music styles. The MIDI examples and their Western notations are clever and imaginative. How can one possibly convey the essence of Bossa Nova in 8 measures? Yet the attempt here is not too far off. One can imagine some garage studio MIDI genius creating World Music masterpieces from the assorted vignettes included here.

The guided tour, called here an "Interactive Documentary," is a quick world music tour, a narrative with videos running along simultaneously, at times the narration dropping out. This works pretty well, although some lack of concern for detail in synchronizing shows as when, for example, the narration is talking about Calypso while the video has moved on to Salsa without any indication for the uninitiated that this has happened. A bit later another video is playing, this one an example of the incorporation of frevo into Brazilian popular music and illustrated by a video clip of Airto Moreira. The name of Airto Moreira shows at the bottom of the entire video, even when, actually for most of the clip, his wife, Flora Purim is shown singing.

Target audience

If the primary audience is to be educators and those of the general public who might be inclined to learn a bit more about the world's music, then the introductory narrative tour works well. The inclusion of the Elizabeth May book as text moves in another direction. The articles included in the May book, while not intended to be original research contributions are neither intended for the general reader and probably not terribly useful for music educators either. There is however, no published book that I can think of, which could with more success have been included in toto on this CD. This does not lessen the problem that the text bears little relationship to the rest of the material on the CD, is aimed at a different readership, and no attempt been made to connect this text to the other information on the CD. It seems to have been an entirely fortuitous and not carefully planned choice.

The "Style List" is merely a listing of all the illustrative material on the CD by file type, video, picture, MIDI or audio sound file, with each type identified with a characteristic icon. I t is also possible to re-order this list alphabetically, but not by culture, country, nor musical forms. Rather than listed by country or culture, the listing by file types or in alphabetical order, would seem to be useful only if one were looking for one particular medium to view, or if one knew of a particular item and had some idea that there might be something about on the CD. Far from comprehensive, the alphabetical listing is merely a list of the labels used for the various sound, video and text entires on the CD. In fact, the Style List is an index of materials on the CD and probably should have been placed in a different location on the navigation screen. A cross listing by culture or music might have permitted the list to have some usefulness, at least, but as it stands it is difficult to imagine what purpose it might serve. It suggests that the editors of this CD liked the look of the line- up icons and decided to use them without giving much thought to the potential users of such a list.


The discography is in my mind, the most useful part of the CD ROM. Like other parts of the World Beat CD, this discography, too has been appropriated from other sources, in this case the All Music Guide with a gopher address at allmusic.ferris.edu, an address which I could only reach with difficulty and finally not at all. The CD-ROM, lists a number of forms and locations where this list can be referred to. What is useful about Medio's version of the All Music guide is that it has been placed in a easy to use database form . There are more than 19, 000 entries dealing with "World Beat," "blues," "New Age," "Jazz," etc. For each entry there appears a fair amount of information, along with some qualitative evaluation as to how representative of the genre or of this artist this particular recording may be. In some cases there is also a short review of the recording attacted to the other information. The list can be searched by specifying a number of different genres, something which given the large number of entires, is useful.


In general, however, the selection of videos and sounds appears to have been haphazard. Since only pre-existing material was used, it seems to have been a matter of finding samples from many different locations and then selecting for variety and scope. Certainly, thoroughness would be an unrealistic expectation given the limitations of the single CD. Still, one cannot help but feel that the fortuitous and sometimes careless selection of examples is again at work here. The videos are not always clear, are not uniform in their depiction of the information, nor are many representative of the cultures which they have been identified as representing. For example, if one were to search on China, under the search button on the small piano keyboard at the bottom left of the navigation screen, one would find a number of entries. The first, "Confucian Music," leads to several paragraphs on Confucian music with no sound and no visual material. At this point, trying to click on the back button caused the program, running in Windows 95, to freeze and require rebooting. I learned that one could continue by clicking on search once again. However, now one had to enter the searched word once again and find one's place. There followed an article of a few paragraphs on the Chinese Lute, with a photo of Lui Pei Yeun, however, unidentified. There is an article on Peking Opera, but the accompanying video is not of Peking Opera but one of those modern Western staged dramas based on Chinese history, with dancing chorus, props and Westernized singing and orchestrated accompaniment. There is also an article on Music under Communism, with a little characteristic music playing along. There follows a video on Chinese bells

Chinese bellsbells video excerpt, 12 sec., 1/2-screen QuickTime video, 2.4 MB

bells video excerpt, 4 sec., 1/4-screen QuickTime video, 360 kB

which is a reconstructed performance on recently excavated bronze bells, but with no information about the performance, nor of its provenance. I could find no reference to the Chinese Ch'in and whereas one understands that not everything can be included, the selection seems not to have been motivated by a desire for clarity as much as expediency.

tabla player

I was surprised to find two of my own films, a tabla solo by the late Mahapurush Misra

tabla video excerpt, 9 sec., fullscreen 2.7 MB QuickTime

tabla video excerpt, 7 sec., 1/4-screen 550 kB QuickTime

and a Marimba performance by musicians from Tabasco in Mexico included on the CD without any mention anywhere, even in the accompanying readme files, of the fact that these were my films. While one is strongly impressed that the CD-ROM is an ideal medium for presenting a multimedia sampling of the World's musics, the careless manner in which the materials were gathered for this particular CD suggest that we shall have to wait a bit longer to see the potential of this medium fully exploited.

Robert Garfias
Uiversity of California, Irvine

email to Robert Garfias,
October 2, 1995

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