ROCKnROM: The Ultimate Database of Popular Music.
The main screen presents a kaleidoscopic assembly of clickable sections for words, artists, writers, works, recordings (tracks), products (CDs, LPs, tapes), musical genres, roles (instruments, performing group types, or functions such as arranger, producer, and engineer), dates, popularity charts, and places. Data is consolidated into boxes with labels such as "identity" (name, gender, product format), "space-time" (dates and places of birth, death, publication, work), "relations" (to performing groups, label names, publishers), and "attributes/achievements" (genre, medium of performance, works, recordings, products, contributions). Other aspects of ROCKnROM include concept analysis charts, biographies, reviews, photographs, and descriptions of musical genres.
This CD draws upon the databases of three leading music organizations - the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society Ltd. (MCPS), a British organization representing over one million composers and music publishers worldwide, and Chart Information Network Ltd. (CIN) and Billboard, which are the primary managers and distributors of music popularity charts in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. Descriptions of musical genres derive from the MCPS database and Steve Smith, Bits and Pieces (1988). Photographs were supplied by the Hulton Getty Collection in London. Most of the biographical information is several years old, having been extracted from Donald Clarke's 1989 reference book, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Sources for reviews of recordings include Dave Marsh, The Heart of Rock and Soul (1989), David Sinclair, Rock on CD: The Essential Guide (1993), and Caroline Sullivan, rock critic for The Guardian (1995-96).
Most text searching is dependent on keyword queries with right and left truncation. Other search methods include clicking on icons or lists of selected names and titles. Limiters include categories such as publisher, label, venue, gender of artist(s), place, dates, genre, type of product, biographies, and photographs. Search results often include tabbed windows that list products, contributions, recordings, or works. When returning to a list display, the most recently retrieved item is positioned at the top of the list. Throughout the course of a search session, the bottom of the screen variably contains options for returning to the home screen, reviewing search histories, returning to previous screens, searching, clearing searching windows, adding to playlists (bookmarks), and quitting the program.
Indexes in the database are sorted according to computer filing rules - uppercase characters file before lowercase. The situation is complicated by the fact that capitalization is used for full names of performing groups (BEACH BOYS) and artists known by single names (MADONNA) and for surnames of other individual artists (Michael JACKSON). The usefulness of the indexes is further weakened by a lack of authority control, by sorting a host of performing group names under the initial article "The," and by frequent listing of personal names under the first letter of the first name rather than the surname (Jackie GLEASON files under "J"). Collectively these factors often cause multiple alphabetical sequences in search results, so one usually needs to browse such lists with care.
The "Words" searching function is the most dynamic direct query feature that ROCKnROM offers, supplying exact word or phrase access to the one million words in the product's data entries. This is the only section of the database that allows explicit Boolean searching, including proximity. Users can restrict searches to products, recordings, artists, or works, each of which is color coded for easy recognition. In some cases, the target words are highlighted in the search results.
The "Artists" portion of the database offers 90,000 entries. Like many of the databases discussed below, the "Artists" function presents two types of search possibilities - keyword search and selection from a list of names or titles. Keyword searching without using filters can yield unwieldy results. After executing a keyword search without limiters on the name Prince in order to find an entry for The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, one must wade through 104 entries to find the correct one. Combining the name search with filters for gender (male), individual performer, genre (rock), and role (vocal) brings the user directly to the proper entry. In this case, selecting an item from the alphabetical list was more expedient than doing a keyword search, with or without filters.
Most entries include place and date of birth and death when known, but their usefulness as a source for extended biographical information or photographs is limited. Searching with the biography filter resulted in only 1,737 biographies, and 298 hits with the photograph filter. The gender filter yielded a list of 11,614 female artists or groups. Interestingly enough, the last entry on this list was [C], which is the professional name of musician Lesley Winer. Performing a keyword search on the name Winer resulted in a correct hit in the "Words" search screen described above, but not in the "Artists" search screen, and, unfortunately in this case, it is not possible to search by a symbol such as [C].
Working with the entry for Aerosmith can demonstrate the ease with which one can explore ROCKnROM. The "relations" box lists the members of the group. Clicking on Steve Tyler's name switches the user to Tyler's entry, which indicates that he belonged to a group called Chain Reaction. Selecting Chain Reaction leads to its own entry, with a "recordings" window listing the song title "When I Needed You." Clicking on that title in the "recordings" window switches the user to the "recordings" function. In the "work" box of the "recordings" screen, selecting the title links one to the "works" entry for the song, which states that Tyler was a cowriter under his given name, Steven Tallarico. Choosing the sole CD title in the "products" window, Pandoras Box, transports the user to the "products" entry for the album with data about every track in every format, including "When I Needed You." Browsers can continue to select and search in this way ad infinitum and discover a massive quantity of reliable information about Tyler and his colleagues.
A unique aspect of ROCKnROM in "Artist" entries is the charting of concept and differential analyses. Each table includes about twenty-five words preceded by plus or minus signs. For example, the concept analysis chart for Melissa Etheridge shows pluses for amusement, feeling, marriage, identity and minuses for imperfection and poverty; the differential analysis lists pluses for parallelism, sobriety, moisture, defiance, restitution and minuses for dullness, plunge, and irrelation. Concept analysis is simply described as "most frequent" and differential analysis as "most distinctive," which makes it difficult to assess the value of this feature. One wishes that the writers had provided additional guidance for interpretation.
In the "Genres" portion of the database, a number of large icons represent the principal musical genres, each of which yields a list of generic subcategories. Selecting one of the generic subcategories plus the "artists" button results in a list of entries for artists known to have performed in that genre. Clicking the "products" or "recordings" buttons yields entries for some categories (country, jazz, Caribbean, blues, religious) and not for others (rock, rap, soul, rhythm and blues, African, Latin, Caj-Mex).
The most disappointing aspect of the "Genres" function is the "description" button, because all subcategories have the same description as the major category. For instance, choosing the terms "beguine," "bossa nova," and "samba" lead to the same text - a brief paragraph about Latin music with links to a handful of artists regardless of the subcategory that has been chosen. On the other hand, reverting to a search of these terms in the "Words" function results not only in a list of entries with extended specific genre descriptions - samba is erroneously classified under biography instead of genre - but also lists of biographies, reviews, artists, products, recordings, and works. Because of the lack of authority control, there are some problems with false hits. For example, a jazz version of The Star Spangled Banner by the Flecktones appears on the list because it is published by Balkan Samba Music. The folk piece Ahmed Sabit is listed under "samba" because the writers name is Samba Mapangala (also listed as Mapangala Samba for other works).
One can select from maps or lists of place names in order to access entries for artists, recordings, or products associated with locales through the "Places" function. Lack of authority control is a serious problem in this category. Selecting Lawrence, Kansas from the list, the user retrieves several entries relating to that city but also to the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, to West Lawrence Avenue in Chicago, and to Lawrence County in Mississippi. Missouri includes a novel entry under the place name GalLatin America [sic]. Most of the entries under Essex, New York actually relate to Essex County, England. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Triborough Bridge may be easily missed because they are listed in their own alphabetic subsection after the main New York State roster. Schenectady, New York appears before the rest of New York State because someone forgot to delete a period after New York.
Besides the regular filters of title, artist, place, genre, and date, searchers in the "Products" category may use specialized limiters for label names, catalog numbers, reviews (ca. 6,100), singles, and albums in order to find CDs, LPs, audio cassette tapes, and similar products. Tracks are listed in the order in which they occur for all formats. Selecting a track title links the user to its respective entry in the "Recordings" database.
For devotees of Billboard and similar charts, the "Popularity Charts" powerful graphics-based database integrating time scales and chart histories may well be an eye-opener. The search function allows one to select from a list of products or artists, or to search specific dates or ranges of dates. Filters include icons for British and American singles and albums, all of which are color coded for use in conjunction with the time scales. One can navigate within the charts forward and backward by weeks, months, years, or decades, focusing on the top 20, 40, 100 or 200 titles in each chart.
Other functions include "Roles," which identifies musical, technical, and creative roles of recordings personnel; "Dates," which retrieves a list of artists who had entries on the popularity charts in a particular year (1956-1995); "Recordings," which includes helpful delimiters such as studio or live performance, place, and venue; and "Writers," which allows the user to limit a search to those composers or songwriters who are also performing artists.
Installation of the program is relatively fast and straightforward. A keyboard mouse is necessary for navigation through the features of each display, which include scroll bars and a host of icons, but keyboard shortcuts are frequently offered for the menu-driven portions of the program. There are three options in the top menu bar. The Index + menu allows users to create and manage playlists (sorting is not an option), backtrack (search history), and quit the program. The "Edit" menu is useful primarily in manipulating text in interactive search windows but does not allow one to copy text to word processing windows because of copyright restrictions. The "Help" menu includes a less than thorough overview that basically duplicates the text of the enclosed booklet. Contextual help screens in the form of pop-up windows are also accessible throughout the program by selecting the information icon - the letter "i" in a small blue box.
ROCKnROM undoubtedly can lay claim to a wealth of data about popular music and a myriad of navigational tools, but it has not yet reached its full potential. There are several drawbacks to consider before acquiring this costly product: inability to print effectively from the program (except for printing from screen), inability to sort long lists of entries within playlists in an efficient way (only up and down buttons are supplied), inconsistent editing, ill-conceived planning of the links to genre descriptions, lack of authority control, cumbersome indexing, and inability to maximize the screen without misaligning the graphics and their associated links. System Simulation Ltd., the sole publisher of ROCKnROM since Penguin withdrew from electronic publishing in April 1996, is working on clearing permission for print, cut, copy, and paste facilities but cannot make any promises yet. The company plans to release annual updates (not quarterly as stated in the accompanying booklet), so one hopes for improved future versions of this fascinating product. In the meantime, for those willing to work with the deficiencies outlined above, ROCKnROM may be quite useful to music professionals and to institutions that specialize in popular music, but it is difficult to recommend this product in its present state to the general public.
VICTOR CARDELL University of Kansas
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|Title Annotation:||Software Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1997|
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