by Rebecca Winzenried
NewMusicJukebox compiles an online library for 21st century music.
Easy access to new music via the Internet may have widened its potential
audience to the nth degree, but the technology has presented other dilemmas for
the music industry. Exactly how does a composer of new music familiarize
orchestras and audiences with his work? Where does an orchestra programmer go to
learn what new music is available? How does a music librarian archive materials
to reflect the changing ways in which information is communicated? How does an
organization known for its 20th-century collection of musical scores deal with
21st-century music technology?
Hold on, because answers to some of those questions may be just around the
corner with the launch of NewMusicJukebox, a web site of the American Music Center. This
"central clearinghouse for scores and recordings," as it's described on the
site, is the AMC's wide-ranging solution for how to deal with the collection and
dissemination of new music for a new century.
AMC officials have wrestled over the last couple of years with how most
effectively to move one of the organization's core services-circulation of
perusal scores-from the physical to the virtual world. AMC members have long
been able to "check out" copies from the organization's library of more than
60,000 scores and recordings by American composers dating back to 1906. As
Executive Director Richard Kessler notes, the process worked fine for most of
the 20th century. When the organization first started offering the service in
1939, it wasn't easy to view scores or get copies. (The Xerox process had been
invented only a year earlier.) "People knew that when they were in New York,
they could stop by and take a look at scores," he says. "It was never meant to
be an archive, but it became a default archive."
With the advent of Web technology, more and more composers, programmers, and
audience members are now turning to the Internet as their primary source of
information. NewMusicJukebox is an attempt to create an archive adapted to their
needs. It has made scores, audio samples, and information about composers
available on a single web site.
NewMusicJukebox is set up as a fairly straightforward music-library
database-except, in this case, composers and users are in control of the
information and how it is accessed. Composers who are members of the American
Music Center can post their works on the site, including information about
length, ensemble type, and how to obtain a score. They can also post a score for
perusal and include recorded clips or MIDI files.
The site works with different composing software programs, such as Sibelius and Finale, in an effort to be "as ecumenical as
possible," says Larry Larson, an AMC board member who has been directly involved
in the site's development. "We don't want them to be forced into learning a new
program." A "Technology Guide" and an "FAQs" section give information about the
different programs, and the site allows users to download applications needed to
view the scores--a Scorch plug-in is needed to read Sibelius web files, for
example-or listen to audio files.
Composers can post audio clips as MP3
files or MIDI samples. Larson and Kessler admit that the synthesized
quality of MIDI files is not a perfect option for hearing an orchestral score,
but such files do provide a fairly accurate representation of what the works
sound like and, at least on NewMusicJukebox, the welcome chance to follow along
in the score. The MIDI option may also be a way around rights issues if
composers aren't able to obtain permission from everyone involved in actual
performance recordings. (MIDI files are basically instructions for a computer or
synthesizer for how to play the music.) An "About Rights" section will keep
composers and users up to date on the latest information concerning copyright
and intellectual property issues for distribution of music-related materials on
Visitors to www.newmusicjukebox.com can search the site by type of
composition, scores only, audio only, or all of the above. A composer search
offers a roster of works with information on the length, ensemble,
instrumentation, and how to obtain a score or contact the composers or
publishers. NewMusicJukebox was conceived as a strictly business-to-business
model for artistic administrators and programmers. Thus, an advanced search can
be narrowed down to specifics such as five-minute length or works for marimba.
However, the site has since been opened to general access. Composers must be
AMC members to post, but anyone can sign on to do searches, including casual
users who might have heard something on the radio and want to learn more about
it. A keyword option allows them to do broad searches for works by a composer's
last name, or by any fragment of the title they might have managed to catch.
Sounds and Scores
In fact, NewMusicJukebox developed from plans to launch
a web radio station devoted to new music. That idea is still in the works, as
the "New Music Radio" button floating at an upper corner of the pages attests.
The radio station would draw its playlist from the NewMusicJukebox database.
Early discussions about the web station evolved with the realization that there
was no central place for users to find information about new composers and their
music. Kessler points out that even established contemporary composers can be
hard to track down on the Internet. It's not a given that composers or their
publishers have taken time to set up web sites or to log composition details.
Many up-and-coming composers without publishers have taken matters into their
own hands by establishing web sites that function as promotional tools and
distribution centers. Still, if no one knows about the music, the odds of any
given site on the World Wide Web being found are dicey. "There's actually a
confusion of information. People don't know what composers are out there,"
Kessler notes. "When they do want to program something new, they don't know
where to find it. The reality is that the field is deeper, stronger than it's
A core group consisting of Kessler, Larson, and composer/web consultant Caleb
Kerchaval has been working on NewMusicJukebox for more than a year, aided by a
grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Nuts-and-bolts work on the
project has revolved around development of a database and navigational tools to
make NewMusicJukebox as user-friendly as possible.
A second element has involved familiarizing publishers with the concept,
demonstrating how NewMusicJukebox can work in tandem with them, not in
competition. AMC sees NewMusicJukebox as a bridge between publishers and
end-users, since it can include links to publisher web sites, composer pages, or
information about how to obtain scores. Kessler reminds critics that
NewMusicJukebox scores are offered for promotional perusal, just as AMC has
always done with hard copies. "We're not selling this stuff," he says. The site
does allow self-published composers to offer users a score-download option.
Keeping in mind that this is a 21st-century project, NewMusicJukebox will focus
on new compositions only-at least for now. A test phase that began in February
started with a base of about 100 works; the list had grown to substantially
prior to the site's official launch on May 6. AMC encouraged participation from
a balance of known and unknown composers to get it started on a solid footing.
NewMusicJukebox will be essentially user-controlled and maintained as
composers continue to post new works or offer updates on older pieces. The
design sets up NewMusicJukebox as an instant archive of new music from this
point forward. Its acceptance among composers remains to be seen, but its
potential can be weighed by a look at AMC's membership: Of about 2,500 members,
1,800 are composers.
The organization will eventually add its 20th-century library to
NewMusicJukebox, either by adding scores directly to the database or perhaps by
offering connection to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
AMC's actual collection of scores was moved last summer from the organization's
headquarters in Manhattan's Flatiron district to the Performing Arts library at
Lincoln Center, some 40 blocks north.
AMC has also entered into an agreement with the Charles Ives Society to
include that composer's scores on the site. Kessler believes it is important to
widen the scope of NewMusicJukebox by adding such "legacy" materials. It's a
rather ironic twist for a forward-looking project-one that, he notes, "opens the
door not only to the 21st century but the 20th century as well."
Rebecca Winzenried is managing editor of SYMPHONY.