Reverse Engineering – Musical Passage

The digital humanity project that I attempted to reverse engineer is ‘Musical Passage: A VOYAGE to 1688 JAMAICA‘, which attempts to “tell the story of an important, but little known record of early African diasporic music”. The first reason that I chose this DH project to reverse engineer is very simple: It is because I took Afro-Cuban drum lessons at Carleton and I wanted to know more about its root. I also wanted to know what means the researchers decided to use in order to meet their goal.

Musical Voyage exploration page

This DH project webpage primarily focuses on an interpretation and reproduce short pieces from ‘Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica‘ from Hans Sloane’s 1707.  In the ‘About’ page, the researchers acknowledge that they do not know how exactly the musical pieces from ‘centuries-old book’ were played.

In order to reproduce the work of Hans Sloane’s as much authentically as possible, they gathered/processed such information as description of musical instruments, and collective knowledge of the period. Also, they digitized images of musical notes and descriptions of instruments and entered detailed information such as the background history for each piece and the terms or words written on the notes.

The method used for presenting their work is very concise and user friendly. When you first enter the webpage, there is a playlist on the top right corner and it auto plays at first. A user can stop or start the playlist anytime. In ‘Explore’ page, not only does it display the image of the musical notes, but also a user can click any piece he/she wants to listen by simply clicking. To help users distinguish which from where a piece starts and ends, it blurs the rest of the image except for a small piece that a mouse cursor is pointing to. This simple and yet very intuitive approach captures the essence of what they want to visualize and auralize.

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