Music, Maps and the Global Jukebox: Culture Areas and Alan Lomax’s Cantometrics Projects Revisited

Gold, John R.; Revill, George and Grimley, Daniel (2017). Music, Maps and the Global Jukebox: Culture Areas and Alan Lomax’s Cantometrics Projects Revisited. In: Brunn, Stanley D. and Dodge, Martin eds. Mapping Across Academia. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 287–303.



The activity of mapping culture areas has acquired notoriety in academic circles on account of the deterministic and nationalistic agendas with which that activity has often been associated. Yet such cartographic exercises need not only serve the narrow agendas of specific groups; they can also serve as creative and imaginative instruments for enhancing cultural understanding and advancing notions of equity. To illustrate this contention, this chapter considers the theory of ‘cantometrics’ devised by the American folk collector and musicologist Alan Lomax (1915–2002). ‘Cantometrics,’ which literally meant ‘measurement of song,’ was first suggested in 1959 and developed in the 1960s as an approach that effectively sought to define and categorise world music through mapping folksong styles and culture. In this chapter, which contains five main sections, we examine the nature and imputed meaning of the cartographic output from Cantometric analysis, especially the mapping of the world into 56 culture areas, as well exploring the products of the subsequent, computerised “Global Jukebox,” with its proto-GIS cultural system. In outline, the first two sections supply contextual background about the theorising of folk music in relation to culture areas and about Lomax’s work up to the mid-1950s. The third section analyses the nature, characteristics and flaws of cantometric inquiry, with the ensuing part commenting on the parallels between cantometrics and cognate areas of geographical inquiry. The conclusion briefly reflects on the significance and implications of Lomax’s theory for the comparative study of world music.

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