Notes 60.2 (2003) 508-510
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Music and Culture of West Africa: The Straus Expedition. Created by Gloria J. Gibson and Daniel B. Reed in collaboration with the Teaching and Learning Technologies Laboratory, Indiana University, Bloomington. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. CD-ROM [Requires Macintosh Power PC 7100/100 or higher, quad-speed CD-ROM drive, System 7.5 or higher, 32 MB RAM; or Intel Pentium 166 or higher, quad-speed CD-ROM drive, Windows 95, 98, or NT, 32 MB RAM, Sound Blaster-compatible sound card, Direct X version 3.0 or higher, DirectDraw and DirectSounds drivers. 2-CD set. ISBN 0-253-33832-8. $39.95]
In 1934 four Americans, including anthropologist Laura Boulton and her ornithologist husband Rudyard, carried out an expedition in West Africa, as Boulton herself described it, "to collect specimens for the new hall of exotic birds in the Field Museum of Natural History, to film the customs and ceremonies of tribal life, and to record the music of French and British West Africa" (CD-ROM [cdtext.pdf], 65). Funded by the Carnegie Corporation and friend and benefactor Sarah Lavanburg Straus, the so-called Straus Expedition, which included three vehicles shipped to Dakar and a nine-person local support crew, traveled more than eight thousand miles across West Africa through colonial territories that have since become the nations of Senegal, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Cameroon. Laura Boulton's role was to collect music, and she did it with a passion. The expedition brought back more than 360 sound recordings, more than forty minutes of silent film, close to five hundred photographs, and fourteen musical instruments. With the exception of one record album edited by Laura Boulton (African Music. Folkways Records FW 8852 , LP) and some photographs, this material has until now remained tucked away in various archives and collections. This excellent two-CD-ROM set makes available a treasure trove of Boulton's materials, presenting them in an accessible, [End Page 508] user-friendly, and highly educational manner. Ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, historians, and students of African music will have much to explore here.
The main point of entry is multimedia presentations—over fifty of them—clearly organized so that users can access them in two ways. One way is by traversing a map of West Africa that shows the expedition route with pull-down menus at the towns where Boulton made recordings. On these menus users can choose presentations about the town and the instruments recorded there. The other main means of access is by browsing a listing of general topics, such as the towns visited, instrument classification categories (e.g., chordophones) and instruments within them, explorations (musical principles, ethnomusicology, information on Boulton and the expedition), and miscellaneous topics (e.g., Dogon masks, the Sunjata epic). Many of the presentations are narrated with photographs, film clips, and sound recordings that Boulton made, and supplemented with more recent sources. These are typically four or five minutes long and divided into several sections, which users can select with a mouse. Other presentations have a sound track and photos accompanied by written texts. Some of the presentations on musical principles are interactive. The one on polyrhythm, for example, allows the user to create polyrhythmic compositions with a small percussion ensemble, a great enhancement that helps bring the music alive. The presentations are all technically sophisticated and informative, seamlessly taking full advantage of the potential of the medium. It would have been more convenient to be able to scroll to any part of the presentations rather than having to select rather long segments, but perhaps the technology did not allow for this.
The creators of the CD-ROM, Gloria Gibson, former director of the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University where much of Boulton's materials are located, and Daniel Reed, current director, deserve special congratulations for the second disc in the set, which offers all of the photos, video clips, sound recordings, and spoken texts from disc 1—and more (such as fascinatingly detailed expedition-related correspondence)—for the user to view individually...