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Music library gets cutting-edge tunes

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The Lewis Music Library has added some high-tech music to its collection--or what passed for high-tech almost a hundred years ago.

Last summer, librarian Peter Munstedt began collecting material for "Inventions of Note"--sheet music to American popular songs and piano pieces from about 1890-1920 about inventions and gadgets. The pilot project involves scanning and uploading some of the music (pieces published more than 75 years ago that are in the public domain) to a web site, together with audio links for some titles whereby visitors can hear the music--sung by members of the MIT music faculty. (There was also a concert of some of the songs during IAP.)

The project is ideally suited to a place like MIT, according to Dr. Munstedt. "I'm always looking for ways that music intersects with technology," he said. "These songs really show the impact that these technologies had on people's lives."

Visitors to the web site will see a list of song titles including "Gasoline Gus and His Jitney Bus," "Come Take a Trip in My Airship," "Kissing Papa Through the Telephone" and "The Duro Pump Song." The lyrics are often fanciful or quaint when viewed from a 1990s perspective. A selection by Irving Berlin called "Keep Away from the Fellow Who Owns an Automobile" reveals the potential dangers of modern technology:

There's a certain flirtin' man with money in the bank
The man I mean owns a machine, the kind you have to crank���������������������������
He'll take you far in his motor car, too darn far from your Ma and Pa
If his forty horsepower goes sixty miles an hour
Say good-bye forever, good-bye forever
There's no chance to talk, squawk or balk
You must kiss him or get out and walk!

Clicking on a title reveals the colorful cover art from the music booklet, with the music itself on subsequent pages. The site is still under construction, Dr. Munstedt noted; more titles and sound clips will become available in the future. The library's collection contains about 75 titles, and the web site also has links to several other universities' sheet music web sites.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 11, 1998.

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