Alan Lomax's Global Jukebox

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Published on: April 20th, 2017

Alan Lomax is generally not associated with digital technology as most of his famous work and recordings were done before the digital technology became common-- but that dissociation may be about to change. Lomax died in 2002 but the final years of his life were spent envisioning a "Global Jukebox," an online database to store thousands of songs and dances cross-referenced with anthropological data.

"The modern computer with all its various gadgets and wonderful electronic facilities now makes it possible to preserve and reinvigorate all the cultural richness of mankind," he said in a 1991 interview with CBS. The early days of the project in the 1980s were spent with Lomax poring over punch cards and computer systems. He envisioned a future with technology like what we have now, but struggled to create the database at the time due to the relatively primitive nature of computing at the time.

Lomax's vision has come to life through the organization he founded, the Association for Cultural Equity, as the group continues this work. The real Global Jukebox allows users to listen to and learn about more than 6,000 songs from 1,000 cultures as organized by map and by culture. The music is analyzed by cantrometrics, a system that Lomax developed to break down music into variables like tonal blend, melodic range and social organization of vocal lines. Those at the project's helm now say that it will be continued for years to come, with many more songs and analyses added.


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