History of the Global Jukebox

A Multicultural Universe for Schools, Museums, Libraries, and Homes

The Global Jukebox is a powerful tool for learning that organizes and maps human expressive behavior with an illustrated geography of song, dance, and speech. It brings together results from a long-running cross-cultural research project that used techniques from ethnomusicology, dance notation, linguistics, and anthropology to describe, map, classify and interpret orally transmitted performance traditions from all world regions. Its findings match and illuminate the known history of culture.

With the Jukebox, the world's performance styles may be studied by a student, educator, scientist, linguist, artist, music fan, dance fan or anyone wishing to acquire an appreciative overview of music and dance in their cultural settings. The Jukebox teaches geography, anthropology, math, science, and tolerance through our most engaging and universally loved creations: music and dance.

In the 1950s, Alan Lomax began to apply his collecting experience scientifically, testing hypotheses he had developed over decades of listening to people sing and tell their stories. His efforts led to a collaborative research project whose aim was to decode the language of the performing arts, and to learn how expressive systems link the world's cultures. These studies into global performance style—Cantometrics, Choreometrics, Parlametrics, and Phonotactics—were united in a multimedia platform called the Global Jukebox. Between 1989 and 1995 some 7,000 coded performances were linked to sound and film clips, images, text, and a discography and filmography, which could be researched through an extensive menu and an interactive globe.

Beyond its intended uses in research and education, the Global Jukebox was meant to be an egalitarian showcase for the expressive arts and aesthetic values of all cultures. Alan Lomax called it the "first democratic educational machine ever invented," as it had no specific cultural bias and allowed users to explore the full range expressive of culture from any starting point.

This prototype was the world's first music information retrieval system, designed to teach math, science, and geography through a cross-cultural analysis of expressive style, as well as to answer the need for a holistic pedagogical approach to music, dance and culture. It was tested in the New York City school system and won rave reviews from its student users and from prominent educators and journalists. Here is a video demonstrating the Jukebox prototype.

ACE is rebuilding and updating the original Jukebox. This year it will go online with the first step of the project, The Global Jukebox Song Tree. You may listen to over 5,800 songs via points on the map that dynamically respond to your selections. The coded parameters for any selected song sample are depicted along lines radiating in a circle from the sample's geographical location. And similar songs and cultures from around the world are shown with each selection. Developer Jeff Feddersen can walk you through a demo of the Song Tree. Ultimately, with further funding, a complete online version of the Jukebox will present all of its datasets, thousands of songs, dances, and language examples, and multiple ways to view and manipulate the data—with the prospect of adding to the samples. With the Jukebox, people worldwide can discover the musical traditions of their own backgrounds, and learn about how they are related to world traditions. In so doing, they will come to understand and love the rich diversity of expressive culture.


Alan Lomax on the Jukebox: "An intelligent museum of expressive behavior"

Lomax wrote that the humanistic goal of the Jukebox is to mitigate the rapid shrinking of human cultural resources, brought about by the centralization of communication and education. Standardized programs of merchandising, education, and mass media have taken over or encroached upon the terrain of local creators and customs, resulting in the destruction or degradation of local, regional, and tribal heritages and a consequent decline in the quality of community life. This means a loss of resources for the future healthy growth of culture, which in the past often has depended upon cultural cross-fertilization.

Science and scholarship can play a decisive role by revealing the solid social and structural foundations of performance traditions, showing their historic depth, and providing ways for them to be critically evaluated. In this way can assume a respected place in the superstructure of civilization, alongside the verbal and the textual, at the same time that our understanding of human expressivity can be systematically increased.

The Global Jukebox is a means to extend the potential of the computer as a knowledge navigator of the performing arts, to open up a treasure trove of culture in an objective and scientific vein, to bring a multicultural universe into schools, museums and libraries, teach geography, anthropology and tolerance through song and dance, and to help everybody discover and understand their roots.

It has special relevance to the growth of American culture, which is so largely made up of oral folk traditions brought across the Bering Strait, from Europe and Africa, and shaped into tribal and regional traditions by their encounters in New World environments. Our increasingly multi-cultural origins, our evident need for "roots," our global responsibilities, all require that the American public becomes sensitive to and knowledgeable about human cultural diversity. The findings and publication of this project are means to those ends.


During the project's residence in the Anthropology Department at Columbia University (1961-1983) and then at Hunter College (1983-1995), its research team was composed of ethnomusicologists, ethnologists, linguists, movement analysts, statisticians, film-makers, and computer programmers. This group collected and examined sizable libraries of recorded song, movement, and speech, representing the main cultural regions of the world. Each body of data was searched for the paralinguistic measures by which it could be described and classified.

These codified systems were then applied by pairs of judges to the analysis of sizeable samples of data—for example, 5,800 songs from 600 world cultures; 1,200 dances from 400 cultures; 300 songs from 30 cultures for a Phonotactics study; and 114 conversations from 100 language families. All of this data was statistically analyzed within a carefully balanced cultural frame, and matched with societal measures based upon the Ethnographic Atlas and other cross-cultural studies.

The datasets represent all regions of the world's cultures and all the main socioeconomic arrangements of human groups. These are systematically described so that their patterns can be called up, compared, and arranged in multiple dimensions. They been analyzed, classified, and then correlated with findings from ethnography.

Markedly distinctive regional styles were discovered, whose influence was clearly discernible at the level of local cultures, and in cultural mixtures. Correlations with social data showed that changes in style across time were related to several major social factors: rise in productivity and the power of the state; changes in sexual standards, in the gendered division of labor, and in childrearing.

Similar factors in all six expressive systems studied were found to be dependent upon these same variables. Thus, on the one hand, it is possible to predict certain aspects of song, speech, and performance style in a culture from its social structure. On the other hand, these very aspects of expressivity become indicators of the cultural influence and social forces at work in a given society.

"This theoretical framework," Lomax wrote, "puts the arts at center stage of human development. It finds common ground for the artist, the media specialist, the educator and the scientist to work together to maintain the total cultural heritage of mankind, as a basic factor in the positive growth of our species."


Comments from students at the High School of Environmental Studies, NYC, after participatory classroom presentations of the Global Jukebox in April 1993:

"I learned that types of music have a link to people and their way of life. Looking at music and dance can really tell you a lot about people. I wish to learn more about it."

"I was fascinated by the fact that West African dance is almost identical to our own teen dances. Thank you for the opportunity to see my roots."

"I learned how music is part of people's culture. The best part was listening to the music and comparing one to another. I think I learned more in 50 minutes about different types of music than I ever did in my whole life."

"The Global Jukebox would help our Global Studies class learn about other cultures not by going to the book, but by seeing it with your own eyes! I think it was fantastic."

"The Global Jukebox would help our class by letting us learn through music. If we hear different types of music from all around the world, it will help us learn more about those countries. It is a lot of fun to hear music and learn. My suggestion is that our class should do this more often, like twice a week."

"I thought it was neat because I never saw anyone use their computer like you have. I have seen graphics on computers, but I have never seen graphics like the ones you used. I would like to see more of the Global Jukebox."

"I thought the Global Jukebox was great. It shows and tells you all the music of other countries. I think they should have this in all schools."

"The Global Jukebox provides for unlimited interdisciplinary opportunities and is a wonderful medium for making learning 'alive'.... What an exciting and energizing experience!"
Maritza Lopez, Coordinator of Social Studies and Multicultural Education, Community District 4, New York City Public Schools

"A miracle.... This is the way that social science and the arts will be taught in the 21st century." 
Vartan Gregorian, President, Brown University

"No other interactive project I have seen draws such precise and logical cross-cultural connections among music and dance.... A work of unique quality and imagination."
Robert Marx, Executive Director, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

"An entirely new model for dealing with cultural diversity in a science museum. The Global Jukebox offers a new channel for broadening audiences." 
Alan J. Friedman, Director, New York Hall of Science

"The Global Jukebox is a remarkable system, not only technically, but also with respect to its contents." 
Bruce Tonn, President, Social Science Computing Association

"The Global Jukebox unites a cutting-edge concept of culture to cutting-edge computer technology... It opens a door into a world of song, dance and craft... that holds the visitor in thrall." 
Alan Jabbour, Director, Archive of Folk Culture, Library of Congress

"The Global Jukebox project is fuel for Mr. Lomax's pursuit of what he calls 'cultural equity,' meaning that every culture should have an equal opportunity to be heard and seen on the airwaves and in the classrooms."
Sheila Rule, The New York Times

Read "Alan Lomax's Multimedia Dream" by Michael Naimark.


You can help support the Global Jukebox. Donate now.

The Applied Advanced Technology Division of the National Science Foundation, Interval Research Corporation, Apple Corporation, and Avid Technology supported development of the original Global Jukebox prototype.

The research received support from many sources. Beginning with a pilot grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1961, there was generous support from the National Institute for Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Rock Foundation over many years.

The Concordia Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rock Foundation, Odyssey Productions, and the generosity of anonymous and individual donors, continue to support the restoration and renovation of the Jukebox.

The Global Jukebox won the Best Software Award at the 1993 Conference on Computing for the Social Sciences.