larkson Communication & Media Professor
Stephen Farina’s newly published enhanced
Reel History: The Lost Archive of Juma
Sultan and the Aboriginal Music Society
the cutting edge of this new technology, arguably
the most significant innovation since Johannes
Gutenberg’s invention of “tricky writing” in the
is a ‘born digital’ book, in that it
was not first published as a bound book and then
repackaged into a digital version,” says Farina. “I wrote
and designed it as a digital publication, so the narrative
integrates a lot of graphics and photos as well as
embedded video and music.”
Part graphic novel, part oral history, Farina’s
book weaves together three interconnected narratives:
an eyewitness account of a defining moment in jazz
history told through the reflections of Juma Sultan, a
jazz percussionist and a musicians’ rights advocate; the
author’s own coming of age story; and a thoughtful
reflection on what it means to recover an authentic
piece of cultural history.
Sultan was among a loosely formed group of
artists and performers in the 1960s and 70s who
were redefining the aesthetics of American culture.
A widely experienced jazz musician, he was also a
pioneer of world music, and activist for musicians’
rights. He is perhaps best known as the percussionist for
Jimi Hendrix’s band “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows” and for
his appearance with Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969.
Seven years ago, while working on another project,
Farina met and interviewed Sultan. During the course of
their discussions, Farina learned of a large cache of reel-
to-reel tapes, 16 mm films, and photos documenting the
period that Sultan had stored in a barn.
Much of the resulting archival work behind
was done collaboratively with Clarkson
Communication & Media Professor Johndan
Johnson-Eilola through a research grant from the
National Endowment for the Arts. The cataloging of
material and transfer of the reel-to-reel tapes has led
to the creation of an online archive for jazz fans and
historians of music and culture, as well as the release
last fall of a well-received three-cd box set, “Juma
Sultan’s Aboriginal Music Society: Father of Origin”
contains digitalized film excerpts
and more than a dozen audio files from the archive.
Published by Wesleyan University Press, it is available
in iPad, Kindle and Book Nook editions. While it
is Farina’s fifth book, it is the first one he created
While publishing traditional printed and
bound books may be in decline, integrating
digital technology into the production and dissemination
of texts offers exciting new possibilities for transforming
the book into a richer format, and even opens the door to
changing what we mean by “reading a book.”
Reel History is a ‘born digital’ book,
in that it was not first published as
a bound book and then repackaged
into a digital version,” says Farina.
Prof. Stephen Farina with the iPad edition of Reel History. He is also introducing
digital technologies into the classroom where his students are learning to create
complex, interactive communications for today’s high-tech world.
specifically in a digital format.
I knew it had all the ingredients to
make a great multimedia, interactive book
that would provide a totally immersive
experience for the reader,” says Farina.
The images and graphics which look
great on a screen would be less effective
on a printed page. In fact, the book as it is
would simply not work in print.”
But creating an electronic book that
utilizes interactive features turned out to
be challenging. Most books are produced
in a printed form and simply reformatted
to be read on an iPad or a Kindle. Few are
designed with the technology in mind.
The university presses I spoke with were very clear that they
wanted to get into digital publishing but they were less sure about
how to do it,” Farina says.
Farina was in more or less the same place. After writing and
working out the interconnected narratives, Farina used Comic Life,
a well-known and relatively simple software package, to develop
the graphics and type font, and drop in photos, illustrations and
text boxes. Embedding the video and audio clips successfully was
daunting, particularly since Farina first had to digitally transfer the
mm film to video himself. That meant immersing himself in the
old, nearly defunct, technology of cutting and splicing film frames
by hand. He found most of the equipment he needed on eBay.
It was a real blending of old and new technologies — going
from one extreme to the other,” he says.
Creating a book that could be viewed on competing
platforms also meant developing multiple versions, each with its
own distinctive quirks that had to be worked out.
Farina finds that being a publishing pioneer has its rewards. “It
is still early in the game so new challenges keep appearing and you
have to figure out solutions as you go along,” Farina says. “A couple
of years from now the technology will be ubiquitous.”
Still, he isn’t predicting the death of the printed page anytime
soon. “The growth in electronic publishing is inevitable but in
order to work in a digital format, books must lend themselves
to multimedia. They need to be interactive by nature. I’ve been
reading about Shakespeare’s England lately and it would be great
to be able to see historical artifacts and folios. It would really
enhance the reading experience.”
But I also read fiction,” he adds. “And with novels, the
interactivity goes on in my head. That’s where I see the scenes and
hear the characters. I don’t need them popping up on the page.”