Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 12, Number 8: September 2012

The CD-ROM Project

Music Music Music

No, the CD-ROM Project didn’t halt prematurely. It just took a long break. This time around, let’s look at some music-related title CD-ROMs. Can they even be installed under Windows 7? Do they work? Are they worthwhile? Are there replacements?

Forrest Gump:
Music, Artists and Times

This three-disc set dates from 1995 and was published by GTE Entertainment. It’s organized around the music in the movie—two dozen of the pop and rock songs on the soundtrack. Each song is a chapter and you can navigate to chapters directly, through a timeline or through the movie script. Each chapter combines some pop-culture history with contemporary oral history as well as the clip from Forrest Gump that used the song, a video clip of a partial performance (usually from a TV show), part of the song played while showing lyrics and credits, and a textual description of the song and the related album. There are also lengthy interviews with artists and songwriters, sometimes with brief video clips as well.

I thought it was an excellent package (and a good value at $30) when I reviewed it in the September 1997 Library Hi Tech News. I gave it a 91: an Excellent rating. It’s supposed to run under Windows 3.1 or later (Windows 95 recommended) or Macintosh System 7.1 or higher.

But it also absolutely, positively, unquestionably required (for Windows) Quicktime for Windows 2.0.3 (included on the discs). Not a later version. Not the ability to play Quicktime videos (which Windows Media Player has had for some time). Nope: One specific version—a version that causes a general protection fault when you attempt to install it on Windows 7. (That doesn’t crash the computer, it just crashes the installation program.) No luck.

I think we’ve lost some worthwhile oral history of an interesting era in music and life. Three public libraries appear to own this set. I suspect it’s of no use to any of them. Too bad.

Prokofiev for Dummies

This is one of a series of “X for Dummies” enhanced CDs published by EMI in cooperation with IDG Books. It’s a CD with just over an hour of Prokofiev’s music (the Lieutenant Kije Suite and seven other pieces), mostly performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under André Previn; I figured that, at $9.95 in 1997, it was worth it just for the music. (I reviewed it in the July/August 1997 Library Hi Tech News and gave it an 81—at the low end of very good.)

The enhancements? 38MB of CD-ROM data that provides a biography of the composer, a MIDI section with conductor’s score for one piece on the disc—a neat function, since you could relate what you’re hearing to what’s going on—and a music center to play the pieces.

In 1995 enhanced CDs were the Next Big Thing. A few gurus claimed every new CD in 1997 and beyond would be an enhanced CD. Never happened: There were a few of them, mostly overpriced Sony greatest hits collections, but nobody much cared.

I didn’t think this CD had a great control system and it had the nasty habit of installing itself every time you ran. Still, it was an interesting way to learn a little more about a composer.

Did I mention that it used Quicktime? No? Guess what happened when I tried to install it? A slightly different combination of errors than for Forrest Gump but the same result: No happiness. No great loss, frankly. (The music plays just fine.) shows 21 libraries holding this. It’s fine as an audio disc. It’s supposedly still available (at about the same price) on Amazon. There is, to be sure, no shortage of good information on Prokofiev and his music.

Total Joplin

“What do you get when long-term Microsoft employees with a love for music retire and apply their money, their skills and their interest to a new company? Sunhawk Corporation and its Solero technology in this case—here applied to all of the known music of Scott Joplin.”

That’s how I introduced the January/February 1998 Library Hi Tech review of Total Joplin, which scored 88 (a high Very Good, just short of Excellent). The disc includes a five-screen foreword about ragtime, a fairly extensive biography of Scott Joplin in 13 chronological articles rich in hyperlinks—and the real heart of the disc: A list of every Joplin composition, arranged either alphabetically or chronologically. For any composition, you can see a description. For any but the lost pieces, you can see the cover of the score—and, more importantly, click on the Music icon to get to the Solero Music Viewer.

The viewer uses Windows menus and toolbars to present the musical score and offer MIDI playback. You can also print out the score (with excellent results, better than the published Joplin collection we have at home, although 8.5x11 is on the small side for piano scores). You can choose your MIDI instrument—anything from the standard “bright acoustic grand piano” to steel drums or flutes. You can alter the tempo and start, pause or stop—and a “bouncing ball” turns the notes being played red (or another color of your choice), so you can follow right along.

The main interface is non-scaling and immobile (640x480 but centered on a black screen if your resolution is higher). The Solero Music Viewer is fully movable and scalable like any standard Windows window. The disc sold for $30 in 1998; there were other Sunhawk discs, including Handel’s Messiah.

That’s all paraphrased from the 1998 review. How does the disc do in 2012? There’s an install problem (one .dll file doesn’t install properly)—but the disc nonetheless starts up with the main interface (non-movable). As far as I can tell, everything works (with the possible exception of automatic background music—but if you select a piece to have as background music, it does play). The Solero viewer works just fine. It still prints beautiful sheet music. It still runs in a proper resizable Windows window. And it offers what it says: total Joplin, including the entire Treemonisha, Joplin’s opera.

All in all, fairly impressive, even with the slight (and apparently unimportant) installation glitch. The dozen libraries that appear to own this should still find it useful—and still, I think a bargain.

What happened to Sunhawk itself? The URL now redirects to OnlineSheetMusic, a Los Altos company that sells digital sheet music—using the Solero viewer.

103 of the best songs…

Back in the day—around 1997-2000—there was a company called that was trying to make a go of free legal MP3-based music distribution, helping independent musicians distribute their work. Technically, the site still exists—but as a piece of CNet. You can still find a fair amount of free (legal) MP3 music there.

You can read the story at Wikipedia. That story never mentions a series of free CD-ROMs that sent to anybody who requested them, a series that usually carried the title 103 of the best songs you’ve never heard and lots more cool Internet stuff! I requested the first few (which may have been all of them). Shortly before starting this article, I mailed the first disc in the series to a collector who’d lost his copy. Volume 2 has, I believe, disappeared—unless it’s the oddball The music and technology tour CD, distributed in the same manner as the others but not primarily song-oriented. I have here volume 3 and volume 4—and my sustaining interest in the series may be indicated by the fact that, until preparing this commentary, I never even opened the CD mailers they came in.

The idea made sense when broadband was rare and indie music hard to find: Mail people a bunch of selected songs in decent MP3 form, which will encourage them to buy more independent music. The discs included other stuff as well—e.g., volume 3 has a videogame demo, a trailer for a movie, a “hot new PC DJ MP3 player” (in 1999, good music-handling software wasn’t built into Windows or the Mac) and some discount offers. The discs came in minimalist foldover cardboard mailers.

They’re mostly curious history. When I went through all of volume 1, I found very little music that did much for me…little enough, apparently, that I let volumes 3 and 4 sit unopened for more than a decade.

So how do the discs work in 2012—or do they work at all?

The music and technology tour

It works. Fixed window (probably 640x480), not a Windows window, but no installation required, and it works. The songs play. I didn’t try the other stuff—and didn’t install the Pixelon video software or any other software.

The others

I decided to try out Volume 3. This time, it does open with a semi-proper Windows window, movable but not resizable.

The multicategory view of 103 MP3 songs worked, as did the songs themselves. After 12 or 13 years sitting in an unopened cardboard mailer, the disc worked just fine. Some of what little music I sampled was OK, and the sound quality was…OK. But, frankly, in an era of Pandora and all the others, I didn’t feel like exploring a hundred unknown quantities. Volume 4 is still sealed.

At Least One Worked

Not a great track record, to be sure—although it’s really not that bad. The discs worked, albeit not entirely, but certainly including the actual music. Total Joplin continues to be fairly impressive. And enhanced CDs…well, after more than a quarter century, the unenhanced audio CD still works just fine. A funny thing about progress…

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 12, Number 8, Whole # 152, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced irregularly by Walt Crawford.

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