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EC Folk Culture on Multimedia

EC Folk Culture on Multimedia marries modern technology with the very roots of European culture to record folk songs, dances, instruments and costumes on an interactive compact disc.

Through CD-ROM, the programme brings together a wide range of resources which hitherto would have represented a stack of videotapes, audio recordings, sheet music, photographs, textbooks and directories.

By integrating this wealth of source material - and providing additional entertainment in the form of challenging quizzes - EC Folk Culture on Multimedia aims to make European folk music and dance more accessible to enthusiasts, and perhaps more attractive to a new audience who already understand the appeal of compact disc but know little about their cultural heritage.


While many of the other consortia in this part of the IMPACT 2 programme comprise highly experienced professional organizations, most of those working on EC Folk Culture are enthusiastic novices with a passionate commitment to their subject and the firm belief that multimedia should be accessible to all.

Project co-ordinator Ken Gourlay of Edinburgh Multimedia is a seasoned computer user who has been involved with folk dance bands for over 20 years. He has combined these two specialisms to develop a database of some 1000 contacts across Europe. Their response to his initial call for 'assets' - the raw materials of the multimedia presentation - was almost overwhelming.

"Bits and pieces arrived from all over Europe," Gourlay says. Contributors ranged from individuals to major archives - the Society for international Folk Dancing sent eight audio tapes, for example, while Stock Music International of Belgium sent ten CDs, and three whole days were spent vetting all the material offered by the Edinburgh International Folk Dance Group.

With no capital to pay for these resources up front, the developers devised a novel alternative: half the profits from the disc will be distributed among the contributors, on a pro rata basis. Although this arrangement may not suit all projects, Gourlay believes that it could offer a solution in non-commercial environments such as this, where content-owners are already accustomed to exchanging information and resources freely amongst themselves.

Of course, this approach does not altogether obviate the problem of copyright clearance. Tracking down all the groups featured in the many proffered videotapes proved particularly challenging - so much so that Gourlay eventually opted to shoot as much original material as possible during the International Folk Festival in York.

EC Folk Culture has the smallest budget of any of the IMPACT 2 projects, with funding of only 26,000 ECU over two years. Gourlay is committed to "producing multimedia applications on a shoestring" but is adamant that 'professional' standards need not be compromised by a small budget.

The design of the disc is highly interactive, with all the 'look and feel' of a commercially-developed title. The quizzes, for example, include audio reinforcement and prompts as well as 'drag and drop' techniques which allow users to match names to instruments or assemble the correct pieces of a Portuguese dancer's costume.


The project team developed its own methodology for 'do it yourself multimedia'. In this spirit, Gourlay chose Authorware Professional, a software package widely used by professional developers, to assemble the interactive multimedia application. He believes that Authorware offers a creative and technical environment accessible to people with no formal programming skills, and hopes that this will encourage others to adapt EC Folk Culture to their own needs, to re-use its resources in different ways, and to make wholly original programmes.

The challenge of incorporating digital video on CD-ROM is being addressed by Graham Crowder, a lecturer in physics at Heriot Watt University who is also a folk enthusiast. Like developers everywhere, he feels that "the crucial factor is the hardware environment and the installed base for playback" - that is, the machines which many people are already likely to own or buy.

He was disappointed that, during 1994 at least, MPEG video (with its clear, full-screen, full-motion images) was still beyond the capacity of many PCs. To reach the present market, he was obliged to look at ,software-only'Video for Windows, which is at least accessible to most 486 PCs. Pragmatically, he foresees that the programme could be revised subsequently to keep abreast of commercial and technical developments. Thus, later versions may offer more and better video footage than the first edition.


Folk enthusiasts may not seem the most obvious target audience for new departures in electronic publishing. However, many amateur groups and societies now use word processors and other software for administration, and many enthusiasts are, like Gourlay and Crowder, computer-literate by profession.

Ken Gourlay observes that "when they see and hear themselves on a computer screen, or when they get involved in the quiz, most people get really excited by multimedia". Being able to browse freely through so much diverse material in one medium is also exciting - not the least for the intriguing comparisons potential in this pan-European collection.

Graham Crowder is also looking forward to the time when he can replace "two bags of audio and videotapes, a VCR and an amplifier" with a portable multimedia system. The potential of this disc as a teaching and learning aid is clear. Beyond the niche market for which the title was originally conceived, EC Folk Culture on Multimedia could find an audience in schools, colleges and social organizations throughout Europe, and beyond.

A multimedia sample of the project (.AVI)

Platform Participants

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