Musical Traditions Internet Magazine
Many sites on the World Wide Web are more promotional than truly informative. The Web is also very good as a directory of services; and as a warehouse of things to use, such as downloadable games or MIDI files. It is less usual to find original work of a reputable nature outside of a few well-resourced academic sites. As it is precisely this sort of material that the online version of Musical Traditions seeks to supply, it is an unusual website and worthy of attention.
Musical Traditions was first published on the World Wide Web by Rod Stradling on Christmas Eve 1996, as a successor to the printed version which ceased publication with Issue 12. The online version as originally mounted contained the items which would have comprised Issue 13 of the printed version. According to Stradling in the section 'About MT', the intention was to replace the contents as new material appeared. In the event, no material has yet been removed. I shall return to the question of the meaning of issue and publication in an online environment later, but first, what does the online Musical Traditions contain?
The home page has links to twenty-two sections. Among them are those already traditional website sections, a 'What's New' page and a page of links to other sites. Chief among the other sections are Articles, Reviews, Letters, and Discography. The 'Articles' section contains (in June 1999) '35 Articles and two whole books'. The books are Mike Brocken's 'The British Folk Revival', which is the text of his doctoral dissertation at the Institute for Popular Music at the University of Liverpool; and his discography of the output of the Topic record label. The fact that this is a dissertation, and not a book written with a general audience in mind, can have both positive and negative effects. One of the author's conclusions that "This folk discourse has become caught up in a consolidation and a permanence which has relations only to, or with, the images created at its own inception. There are few possibilities of transcending a priori meaning, of unfolding a dialectic of its own history" - is a good example.
The inclusion of such a piece certainly confirms the overall seriousness of purpose. This is corroborated by, for example, the presence of an article 'Is Ethnomusicology Relevant to the Study of British Folk Music?' by the Chairman of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, Jonathan Stock. Other well-known contributors include Vic Gammon, Keith Chandler and Keith Summers. The articles as a whole cover a wide range. A rough categorisation revealed three dealing with folk-music history, two with its theory, three specifically on British folk music, eleven on the folk music of other countries (five of which deal with American music) and twelve studies of individual performers or groups.
Works of such quality certainly merit publication, but, of course, this is a website not a traditional journal, and there are several issues to address regarding the medium and Musical Tradition's use of it. If I buy a copy of a printed work, it will remain in my possession permanently. I can refer to an article in it, I can be sure that others will be able to find it in their own or library copies. It will not (barring a major catastrophe) disappear from the face of earth. But with a website anyone who wants to refer to these pages is permanently dependent on the goodwill, material resources and continued existence of the publisher. In this case the publisher does offer to supply the material on floppy disks for those without Internet access, but there is no overall policy statement about the permanence of the material available. The Journal has already moved sites once and older material is now 'outhoused' at a secondary site, so care is needed in citing the material in it. There are, however, clear and useful instructions for contributors, good guidance on the economic use of the site, and throughout there are clear indications of file sizes, media requirements and all the other information necessary to enable users to make the best and most cost-effective use of the site.
The site does make intelligent use of the multimedia possibilities, especially the use of sound files to illustrate the articles. It is also much easier to present visual material. There is a continually updated and growing bibliography of recordings, something that would be impossible to present so helpfully in print format.
All in all, Musical Traditions well merits regular visits by the serious scholar as well as Internet surfer. It has rich, varied content and makes intelligent use of the medium. The material available at the site has lasting merit, and my only reservation is that there should be a clear editorial policy statement about the long-term retention and preservation of this valuable resource.
University of Oxford
Folk Music Joumal, Volume 7, Number 5, 1999, pp. 678-679
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