The Media Cafe - The Ring Disc - Reviews
The RingDisc, a CDROM-based interactive guide to Wagner's
Ring Cycle, features the Vienna Philharmonic recording (Sir
Georg Solti conducting). All 14.5 hours of digitized sound
- captured by The Media Cafe's audio compression technology
- are synchronized to the full piano-vocal score, the German
libretto with English translation, and a running analytical
commentary. This product was reviewed by numerous publications
such as the New York Times (a full spread on the front page
Sunday Art section), NewsWeek, The Chicago Tribune, and many
more. It was also named one of PC World's Top 100 CDROMs.
Boston Globe; personal [sunday paper spread]
Boston Globe; product review
Billboard Magazine; product review
Newsweek; product review
The New York Times [full page sunday paper
spread]; product review
The Chicago Tribune; product review
BBC Magazine; personal and product review
Fanfare Magazine; product review
Opera Journal; product review
Classical Net Review; product review
Computer Games Online; product review
Access Ring Cycle On Your Computer
The Boston Sunday Globe, June 1, 1997
Lexington native Juhan Sonin has helped produce a computer
disc of an operatic masterpiece that is designed for people
who want to do more than just listen to the music.
Sonin served as the director of production for "The Ring Disc,"
which features all four operas in composer Richard Wagner's
Ring Cycle - "Das Rheingold," "Die Walkurie," "Sigfried" and
Besides the Vienna Philharmonic recording of the operas, the
CD-ROM disc includes printed versions of the complete piano-vocal
score, a running commentary on the musical themes, the German
libretto with an English translation, more than 100 descriptive
essays, full-color pictures, explanations of characters and
themes, and other details. The commentary, score and libretto
are all synchronized to the music as it is being played.
The operas themselves usually fill 14 CDs, according to Sonin.
Using their disc- compression technique, The Media Cafe Publishing,
producers of the disc, were able to squeeze the operas and
all the information onto just one disc.
The New York Times has called The Ring Disc "the most complete,
accessible and sophisticated guide to [Wagner's Ring Cycle]
ever created." The disc also had drawn raves from Sir Georg
Solti, the conductor for the recording.
a tool for education, it's pretty cool." Sonin said. A graduate
of Lexington High School, the 24-year-old Sonin went on to
get degrees in engineering and art from the University of
Illinois in 1994. He worked for the National Center for Supercomputing
Applications before joining The Media Cafe a year ago. He's
based in Illinois and New York.
A violinist with a symphony orchestra in Illinois, Sonin shares
his love of music with the company's two founders. One is
a concert pianist, the other has a doctorate in musicology
Now that the intensive work of The Ring Disc is behind them,
Sonin and his colleagues are involved in another project that
combines music and technology. They're working on a computer
game in which the music changes constantly, depending on what's
happening to the main character.
'Ring Disc' among best of best; wait and pay | top |
The Boston Globe, Monday, July 14, 1997
and "cool" are merely lukewarm descriptions of exceptional
software, especially the rare artful pieces of design and
coding that transcend the mundane and achieve elegance.
An elegant bit of software is sleek and efficient, as fast
as a sprinter charging off the line but with a tempered power
that doesn't devour system resources. Elegance also implies
a certain amount of complexity; well-written software that
doesn't do much is merely simple.
Size matters, but only up to a point. There's a definite point
of diminishing return when a program's added functions and
features start to become cumbersome. Hard-drive-based applications
are notoriously elephantine, especially on Windows PCs (check
how much space is occupied by Windows 95 and related apps).
Most games are rife with coding cheese that was never trimmed
during the rush to market the product.
Some of the best examples of elegance can be found on enhanced
CD-ROMs, where the finite space - about 650 megabytes per
disc - forces programmers to economize.
One of the best of the best is "The Ring Disc," a single CD-ROM
containing Richard Wagner's entire "Ring of the Nibelungen"
opera. That's 14 _ hours of music compressed into one disc,
a fact bound to raise interest among most techheads. Disc
publisher the Media Cafe used proprietary compression coding
to accomplish the task.
Technical wow-factor aside, most eye-opening about "The Ring
Disc" are the sensory frills; the running commentary and detailed
explanations of the onstage action and musical nuances, musical
notation of the piano and vocal score, and the full libretto
in German and English. Each of these features is synchronized
with the music and scrolls up the screen in separate frames.
It installs easily and leaves no annoying residue on your
task bar. (It runs only on Win 95 and Windows NT.)
The music is top-notch, the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted
by Sir Georg Solti, considered one of the definitive recordings
of the Ring Cycle. Video eats up disc space, so most graphics
are small pictures of important characters and scenes of a
San Francisco Opera production from several years ago.
Ring Disc" was released in mid-April and is available for
$100 from www.ringdisc.com. It's one of the first of its kind,
but not the last: It's likely that other disc publishers will
be interested in the technical aspects that enable so much
data to be squeezed into one disc. '
Billboard Magazine, August 2, 1997 | top |
Everything you wanted to know about Richard Wagner's entire
"Ring Of The Nibelungen" can be found on this expansive disc,
which is easily the most comprehensive single source of a
musical masterpiece. The sheer amount of content available
on this interactive disc is nothing short of overwhelming.
Over 14 hours of audio is contained on this single CD, including
the full piano- vocal score and the complete Vienna Philharmonic
recording, which is conducted by Sir Georg Solti. A running
text commentary accompanies the music as it plays. More than
100 essays add further analysis. An amazing disc.
Wagnerian Treasure | top |
Newsweek Magazine, May 19, 1997
The Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera in New York just
ended, but Wagner fans aren't as devastated as usual. Why?
It's now possible to have Valhalla on your desktop with the
Media Cafe's The Ring Disc, a single CD-ROM containing all
14.5 hours of the four-opera cycle ($99.99; 888-746-4347).
On the screen, a running commentary, a piano-vocal score and
a German libretto with English translation can appear simultaneously.
The late-'60s recording of Sir Georg Solti conducting the
Vienna Philharmonic provides rich sound, with glorious singing
from such stars as Birgit Nilsson. (A warning: the singers
and their roles aren't listed anywhere on the CD, a decision
that will perplex most opera lovers.) The database of characters,
symbols and leitmotifs is as vast as the search engine is
fast. More than 100 essays, most by singer and voice teacher
Monte Stone, clarify plots and who's who, but the still-photo
images are disappointing - except for a 19th- century Brunnhilde
who's shown in a bustle as well as battle armor. Hoyotoho!
Lost in the 'Ring"? Click on Wotan | top |
The New York Times, Sunday, March 23, 1997
Mythic it may be in its subject matter, but Wagner's "Ring"
cycle has always demanded more of technology than technology
was prepared to give, from rainbow bridges to magic fire,
and baritones transmogrified into toads. Now technology has
caught up, at least on the home front.
The "Ring," with its triangle of gods, heroes, magic and recurring
leitmotifs, has always demanded explication; now the most
complete, accessible and sophisticated guide to it ever created
is about to land in stores, almost in time for the Metropolitan
Opera's spring round of "Ring" fever, which begins with "Das
Rheingold" on Wednesday evening.
Ring Disk: An Interactive Guide to Wagner's 'Ring' Cycle,"
from the Media Cafe, manages the seemingly impossible: on
a single CD-ROM, it combines the entire Decca/London recording
of the cycle by Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic, almost
15 hours long, with a running piano- vocal score, commentary
on the action and leitmotifs as they occur, and a scrolling
German- English libretto, all of them synchronized. Along
with a synopsis, there are also original essays on the characters,
mythology and symbols; an "image bank" with pictures of everything
from old set designs to the current Met production, and an
Want to follow the Ring motif, from its beginnings near the
start of "Das Rheingold" to its last appearance in "Gotterdammerung"?
No problem. just go to "Leitmotifs" (with 119 possibilities),
click on "Ring," and listen to some or all of 15 examples
by clicking on the images of 16th- notes that stud the accompanying
Confused by the relationships between assorted gods, giants,
dwarfs and men? The "Characters" page organizes them into
groups and offers links to explanatory essays. Not only that,
it's easy to use, with no installation required and functions
that are as computer wizards say, intuitive. The sound quality
is not as good as that of a regular CD, but it is better than
that found on a cassette tape and good enough for most computer
setups. "The Ring Disk" is an amazing tool, sure to send Wagnerites
scurrying to the nearest software emporium when it is released
next week at a suggested price of $100.
There's just one catch: it works only on Pentium computers
running Windows 95 or Windows NT. While some software with
such specifications will function on other setups, "The Ring
Disk" requires Pentium's extra power to do the work. Some
Wagnerites may even conclude that the time has come to buy
a new computer.
Ring Disk" was the idea of Monte Stone, a Connecticut-based
singer, voice teacher and self- described Wagner fanatic,
who studied the heldentenor repertory with James King. He
put aside his original plan to write a book on the "Ring,"
when he heard about CD-ROM's.
about music from books, struggling to cue up the examples
on a record or CD, is cumbersome," he said. "A CD-ROM, with
the music examples and commentary shown on the screen while
the music is heard, seemed like a great idea, and I decided
we needed one for the Ring."
Because swapping CD-ROM's back and forth would also be cumbersome,
Yaz Shehab, the president of the Media Cafe, and his partner,
Camille Goudeseune, developed a method to fit the entire "Ring"
and its accouterments onto a single disk.
goal was to keep it as simple as possible," said Mr. Shehab,
a composer, ethnomusicologist and techie who has, perforce,
become a Wagner expert since the project began in 1994. "We
had to remember that our end user might have no background
with computers. There is no manual. There's no confusing installation
procedure. Our designers were unhappy with us. They kept saying,
'This could be fancier.' But that would have meant more things
that could go wrong. Our intention was to build a tool to
take you through the 'Ring' as easily as possible."
Ring Disk" is appearing a year after it was originally scheduled
because of the time spent securing rights from Mr. Solti and
Decca/London, G. Schirmer (the publisher of the vocal score)
and the owners of photographs, and because of fundraising
The realization that the project might die for lack of money
caused soul-searching within the four- year-old Media Cafe,
whose usual clients are companies and whose products include
corporate web sites, soundtracks for video games, and high-end
solutions to technical problems, projects with a six-week
had to ask ourselves, 'How do we save this?'" Mr. Shehab said.
"This project means a lot to us, its our first real consumer
The decision to produce "The Ring Disk" to coincide with the
Met's 1997 cycle gave the company a natural marketing opening
but also imposed a tight deadline on the final assembly. An
unforeseen difficulty arose recently when Decca executives
raised obstacles. Mr. Shehab said the company plans to release
the disk in any case.
Despite his current weariness with Wagner's cycle, Mr. Shehab
anticipates working on overseas versions in coming months,
tentatively scheduled to coincide with Decca's celebration
of Mr. Solti's 50th anniversary with the company, and on another
audio remastering of his "Ring" recording, due this fall.
A version of "The Ring Disk" for the Macintosh is also under
had no idea how much work I was getting into," said Mr. Stone,
the project's originator. "I worked from a lot of sources.
I wanted to take what these people had done and make it more
accessible and easier to navigate."
Mr. Stone added that he would like to do similar projects
in the future, and he sees great potential for CD-ROM technology
as a teaching tool. "The surface has barely been scratched
in multimedia," he said. "This is one area where a computer
can be a lot better than a book."
'RING' CD-ROM | top |
Branagh, Chicago Tribune Newspaper, August 24, 1997
The Ring Disc: An Interactive Guide to Wagner's "Ring" Cycle
Welcome to the Cyber Age, Brunnhilde.
With London Decca preparing to reissue Georg Solti's classic
audio recording of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" this
fall to herald the maestro's 85th birthday, a company called
The Media Cafe has gone ahead and stolen their Wagnerian thunder
by releasing the entire Solti "Ring" - all 15 hours of it
- on a single CD-ROM.
But that's not all. Because "The Ring Disc" is designed to
help the average listener make it alive through the convoluted
saga of gods, giants, dwarfs and superheroes, anyone with
the right computer equipment can access a wealth of visual
information along with the music. Synchronized (more or less)
to the music is a running commentary, piano-vocal score and
More, upper and lower toolbars on your screen make it easy
to navigate through hundreds of essays, pictures, leitmotifs
and other musical examples. The upper toolbar allows you to
jump between any act or scene in the tetralogy, rewind or
fast-forward. All that's missing is a continuous video performance
- and don't think some computer genius isn't working on that
possibility for the millennium.
Drawbacks? The CD-ROM is designed to work only on Pentium
computers running Windows 95 or Windows NT; the staggering
amount of aural and visual data compressed on the disc demands
the extra power. Also, on the disc submitted for review the
audio track was not always in absolute synch with the commentary,
score and libretto. An engineer at Media Cafe said the degree
of synchronization will vary from computer to computer, depending
on the size of your screen, the power output of your system
and other factors.
All things considered, however, "The Ring Disc" is a brilliant,
endlessly informative means of digging below the surface of
one of the great landmarks of Western music drama. It will
afford Wagnerites many, many hours of happy exploration: the
"Ring" as home theater and classroom combined. Wagner's epic
never had it so good. The disc retails for $99.99 and may
be purchased at local software stores or by phoning1-888-746-4347.
John von Rhein
My Month | top |
Finding a way round Wagner's 'Ring' with the help of a computer
Valerie Solti , BBC MUSIC Magazine, June 1997
During our recent trip to Chicago we received an invitation
from an organization called the Media Cafe, to experience
'an interactive guide to Wagner's Ring cycle in New York on
16 April.' Now I have to mention that I don't know ROM from
RAM, and to give proof of my technological dyslexia, when
I first read the card I thought it was an invitation to some
sort of all-night fancy dress party in a New York tea room
where guests were expected to take part in a Ring singalong
to the Vienna Philharmonic/Solti recording of Wagner's opera
cycle. I then read the small print, which said that this was
'a revolutionary resource, 14.5 hours of digitalized sound
captured on one CD- ROM by audio compression technology'.
The publicity coordinator, Stacy Forsythe, told us that the
president of Media Cafe, Dr. Yaz Shehab, and his team would
be pleased to come to Chicago and give us a demonstration.
I had expected a team of whiskery old boffins, instead of
which three beautiful young people turned up, whom I could
easily compare to Freia, Donner and Thor, the only difference
being that the trio from Media Cafe were infinitely brighter
and didn't take hours to tell us about themselves. They had
all been students together at the University of Illinois,
and, on a trip to New York, had met singing teacher and musicologist
Monte Stone, who was planning a book on the Ring. Yaz suggested
that it would be a much better idea to create a CD-ROM with
musical examples. This created problems: there wasn't the
technology available to put the entire Ring onto one CD- ROM,
so the techno wizard of the team, Camille Goudeseune, went
off, and three years later invented it.
The tiny little gold disc has everything any passionate Wagnerite
could wish for - the full piano score, German words, English
translation, and the sounds of Nilsson, Hotter, Windgassen
and Frick from the Culshaw/Solti Ring of the Sixties. If you
want to leap from the low E flat at the beginning of Das Rheingold
to the end of Gotterdammerung, just click on the mouse and
you're there. It can give you instant access to all the leitmotifs
or the sections employing Wagner tubas, together with the
relevant passages of the score. There is a synopsis of the
plot, over a hundred essays by Monte Stone and his collaborators,
and still pictures from the current Ring production at the
Met. No wonder that an article in the New York Times was headed
'Lost in The Ring? Click on Wotan'.
It's compelling, brilliant, and I look forward to its release.
What a quantum leap from the four minutes' playing time per
side of those early 78s! I predict that these young gods of
the Media Cafe are building a rainbow bridge to a completely
new focus in the recording industry. I'm off to study musical
form on Pentium processors, and find out how to access the
project's website, www.ringdisc.com. If nothing else, I now
know the difference between Ring, RAM and ROM.
CD-ROMing Around Wagner's Ring | top |
Fanfare Magazine, July/August 1997
I disagree with the belief that Richard Wagner's Ring operas
present significantly more difficulties related to content
for at-home listeners than many other operas do. The problem
with this meal, if you will, is not its taste but its size.
Alban Berg's Lulu, for example, is harder to digest, even
though it's bite-sized compared to Wagner's tetralogy. Nevertheless,
a mythology has accreted around The Ring, and this mythology
warns everyone but the most hard-bitten Wagnerians that they
cannot really appreciate the operas until they have "done
their homework," so to speak, and have come to understand
the dramatic, textual, and musical interconnections that support
and hold the cycle together like scaffolding. To my mind,
an understanding of these interconnections will come naturally
with time. In today's accelerated world, however, people want
to be experts tomorrow on topics with which they had no experience
yesterday. Crash courses in foreign languages, income tax
preparation, and good sex are common today (look at the sequences
of the "for Dummies" series), and so it's no surprise that
people want to conquer The Ring right away, presumably leaving
them free for other pursuits.
Many books, some scholarly, others less so, help listeners
to roam through the Wagnerian forest. Other media have attempted
it as well. Prominent among the latter is Deryck Cooke's spoken
explication, accompanied by musical examples from the recordings
by Sir Georg Solti. This project was released on LPs approximately
a decade after the Solti discs were released, and it is now
available on CDs (London 443 581-2). It's a sane and safe
choice, but perhaps not a terribly exciting one. More recently,
Speight Jenkins recorded a more detailed roam through The
Ring for the Highbridge company (HBP 39263); the musical examples
on that set came from the 1953 Beyreuth Festival, and so the
sound is less good.
It was only a matter of time, though, before computer technology
stepped in and changed the rules. A tenor named Monte Stone,
who had planned to write yet another book about The Ring,
was captivated by his early experiences with CD-ROM technology.
Stone's imagination let him to consider how the CD-ROM could
be applied to an efficient, user-friendly explication of the
cycle. Scrabbling between a CD player, a libretto, and a scholarly
text could be obviated with an integrative approach. Audio
of the complete operas (or relevant musical examples) could
be combined with on-screen displays of the German texts and
translations, and also with scholarly, written commentaries
about what the user was hearing and seeing. And that was only
the beginning of the vision.
Stone eventually got in touch with The Media Cafe, a company
with offices in Washington, DC, New York, and Illinois. Stone's
idea captivated Dr. Yaz Shehab, President of The Media Cafe,
who saw the project as a potentially interesting departure
from creating corporate Web sites, one of the company's usual
activities. There were some obstacles to overcome, however.
For maximum user-friendliness and consumer economy, the product
had to be limited to a single disc. Through its proprietary
compression technology, the Media Cafe has been able to fit
the entire Ring (about fifteen hours of music) onto one CD-ROM.
And, in keeping with Stone's original version, the disc still
has room for texts, translations, commentary, and more (as
will be explained below). Another obstacle to overcome was
obtaining rights from London/Decca to include the complete
Solti/Vienna Philharmonic recordings of the four operas. Suffice
it to say that it pays to get the best, but it also costs
Times to coincide with the Metropolitan Opera's 1997 production
of the tetralogy, The Ring Disc is on the market in spite
of the above obstacles . . . almost. The copy of The Ring
Disc that The Media Caf¹ submitted to Fanfare is not quite
the final version. Refinements in both presentation and content
are under way, and there's little doubt in my mind that some
of the shortcomings that I noted while reviewing the CD-ROM
will be corrected by the time that the final product reaches
So how does it work? Well, first you should know that The
Media Cafe's Ring Disc is finicky about the machinery that
runs it; even if you already have a CD-ROM drive, a high-resolution
monitor (800x600, with 16-bit color), and a good sound card/speaker
system, you might not be able to run The Ring Disc if your
computer is more than a few years old. Specifically, you need
to have an IBM- compatible PC (a Macintosh version is under
discussion) outfitted with a Pentium processor, eight megabytes
of RAM, and either Windows 95 or Windows NT. Beyond that,
The Media Caf¹ has taken care of everything else. Just pop
the CD-ROM into your drive and the disc sets itself up - you
don't even need to run an installation program. After a "title
page" (the disc's white logo on a stark black background,
accompanied by an excerpt from Siegfried's Funeral Music -
CD- ROM designers take themselves very seriously, I am finding),
you're just a click away from simultaneously hearing music
and seeing the piano-vocal score, German text, English translation,
and a running commentary, plus images and an assortment of
other interesting bells and whistles.
After the disc is loaded via the CR-ROM drive (this happens
automatically - again, there's no need for you to do anything
special), the monitor automatically displays the opening bars
of the piano- vocal score of Das Rheingold as the audio of
the Solti recording plays synchronously. As the music moves
along, so does the piano-vocal score, a few bars at a time.
A toolbar at the top left of the display identifies the opera,
the act, and the scene; you can move within and between operas
by clicking on this portion of the toolbar. To the right,
the elapsed time in the current scene and in the entire tetralogy
is displayed. Additional buttons allow you pause, or to fast-forward,
or rewind through the audio, through the score, or through
the running written commentary, which is displayed directly
underneath the toolbar. This well-written commentary identifies
leitmotifs and other relevant musicological information in
synchrony with the portion of the music that is being heard
and the score that is being displayed. AS will be familiar
to Web users, some terms in the running commentary are underlined;
this is to indicate that more information can be obtained
by clicking on them (so-called "hypertext links"). For example,
when the "Rhine Motif" appears in the music, the commentary
alerts us to its presence. If you click on the actual words
"Rhine Motif," the music pauses, and a window on the monitor
opens to display the basic version of the motif in score.
An arrow marked "more" allows you to view a thorough discussion
about the motif. This discussion includes a listing of other
places in the operas where the motif appears, and in what
contexts. After the listing, a sixteenth-note icon gives the
user access to musical examples of each of those appearances.
The listings also include other highlighted terms, motifs,
and character names to follow if you wish. The discussions
(there are more than one hundred essays) are written by Monte
Stone, with additional essays by Wagner scholar J. K. Holman.
Holman, in particular, writes his character essays with an
enjoyable and light touch, imparting information to users
at all levels of expertise without condescension, and sometimes
even with gentle humor.
As with many Web pages, it is possible to click so frequently
that you end up forgetting what you were trying to research
in the first place - sort of a Minotaur's maze effect. However,
the tool bar on the bottom includes a button marked "return
to music," so all the lost user has to do is to click on it,
and he/she is back at the departure point.
There are other options, and these are made available through
that same tool bar on the bottom of the display; its buttons
are marked "go to," "back," "search," "history," "view," and
"help." Clicking "go to" opens up seven choices. "Synopsis"
give you just that, for whichever scene of whatever opera
you click upon - extensive hypertext links are included here
too. There are descriptions or identifications of all The
Ring's "characters," complete with photos of different singers
(unidentified, unfortunately) in that role. (Their small size
makes them look a bit like mugshots.) A list of the characters'
appearances in the operas is also included. By clicking on
that word, a comprehensive collection of leitmotifs can be
accessed, both in score and in soundbytyes taken from the
recordings. Several "symbols" are identified and hypertext-linked,
and there are bout seventy color "images". Most of these images
are taken from the San Francisco Opera productions, but the
singers, again, are not identified. (It's clear, though, that
even though you were just hearing Birgit Nilsson, you're not
seeing her when you click on "Brunnhilde.") A bibliography
lists dozens of scholarly and not-so scholarly books to follow-up
on, and there are production credits and acknowledgments for
The Ring Disc. (Curiously, and also insultingly, at no point
in this CD-ROM did I find a listing for the singers on the
Continuing along the bottom toolbar, "back" and "history"
work just the way that these buttons do on the average Web
page: the former moves you back to the previously viewed screen,
and the latter tells you where you already have been during
the current journey through The Ring. The "search" option
also will be familiar to computer addicts, since many major
programs, from word processing packages to data spreadsheets,
offer a similar feature. For example, if you want to learn
all there is to know about Loge, you enter the word "Loge"
into the query box, after clicking on "search" (A phrase such
as "Ride of the Valkyries" can also be entered into the query
box, and any or all of the words in that phrase can be used
in the search.) References to Loge within the character, image,
leitmotif, running commentary, symbol, and synopsis databases
(alone or together) are then displayed in a window, and you
can click on any of these to view the information or hear
the associated audio clip.
Although the main display consists of the running commentary
over the piano-vocal score, clicking on "view" allows you
to add a display of the German text with a side-by-side English
translation, or to see any combination of the above three
features, all in synchrony with the audio. Even when all three
are displayed simultaneously, the words and notes remain large
enough to be legible (something that cannot be said of other
classical music-related CD-ROMs that I've reviewed).
There's also a "help" button for those who are having technical
difficulties, or for those who simply want to learn how to
use all the options that are available on The Ring Disc (although
most of them will be fairly self-explanatory, even for the
semi-computer literate). The first few sections guide users
on starting and stopping the CD-ROM, and navigating within
and between the operas and the instructional screens. There
is a FAQ section (that's computer talk for Frequently Asked
Questions), but it includes only two FAQs: "Will The Ring
Disc play on my audio CD player?" and "Will The Ring Disc
run on my Macintosh?" -the answer to both, unfortunately,
is "No." There's also a troubleshooting guide that addresses
six likely complaints ("The colors look ugly," "Help! It won't
let me quit!"). Registration and software support are offered
via a dedicated Web site (www.ringdisc.com), e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org),
or the old-fashioned telephone. Not perfect (not yet, anyway)
The Ring Disc is a great companion to admirers and students,
either formal or informal, of Wagner's tetralogy. I was not
able to identify any major problems with it. No one can seriously
cavil about the recordings themselves, and their compression
onto a single CD seems to have caused only a minor decrement
in sound quality. The commentaries are accurate and entertaining,
the images are handsome (apart from my reservations about
the "characters" database), and the presentation is extremely
user-friendly. Is this how I want to educate myself about
The Ring? No, I prefer to lie in front of the stereo and let
it wash over me, but The Media Caf¹ has done right by users
who can be more cerebral about this operatic behemoth.
The retail price for The Ring Disc is $99.99, and it is distributed
by The Media Caf¹ and JEM Music Corporation. With luck, a
final version should be in the stores as you read this.
The Opera Journal, June 1997 | top |
Carol Kimball, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
The Ring Disc: An Interactive Guide to Wagner's Ring Cycle
Distributed by Media Cafe Publishing and JEM Music Corporation
One CD-ROM disc, $99.99. ISBN: 0-9657357-0-2.
Computer requirements for THE RING DISC are a Pentium processor
PC, Windows 95 or Windows NT, 8 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM Drive, 800x600
screen resolution with 16-bit color, and a 16-bit sound card
and speakers. The Media Caf¹ is a multimedia group with offices
in Illinois, New York, and Washington, D. C. Media Caf¹: 217-239-9400
The Ring on ROM! Using an innovative audio compression technology
process, Media Caf¹ Publishing presents an extensive tour
of Wagner's complete Ring of the Nibelungen, contained on
a single CD-ROM disc. The disc features recordings of all
four operas by Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic,
the full piano-vocal score, the German libretto with English
translation, and a running analytical commentary---all synchronized
to the 14.5 hours of digitized sound.
Media Cafe timed the release of the software perfectly, beginning
with preliminary ads in Opera News and on the Internet. The
Ring Disc became available April 10, synchronized to coincide
with the Metropolitan Opera's April performances of the Ring
cycle. The disc lives up to it pre- release hype. It is, as
the publicity announcements proclaim, "a Gesamtkunstswerk
for the computer age." The New York Times calls it "the most
complete, accessible and sophisticated guide to [Wagner's
Ring Cycle] ever created." The Wagner Society of New York
praises its as "an invaluable resource for the study of Wagner's
It is a brilliant educational and entertainment package. If
you merely want to listen with the score, you can watch as
the musical score, synchronized with the music, unfolds for
you on screen. Another click of the mouse, and you have the
German text and English translation on the bottom of the screen,
to accompany your listening. Should you wish to stop enroute,
an on-screen menu allows you to pause mid-measure and digress
to peripheral matters. Have you forgotten who a character
was? Can't remember a leitmotif? Just click, and motifs and
character identifications appear isolated in windows or you
can stop and take a more extensive side trip to find out more
about each, then return to the music.
You may find it interesting to begin by accessing one of the
following" Synopsis, Characters, Leitmotifs, Symbols, or Images.
Each category provides lists of names, roles, motives, or
symbols found in the operas. An adequate (but by no means
exhaustive) bibliography is also provided. Click on any of
these lists as a preface to your listening, or access them
during the listening---for example, use the extensive list
of al the motifs to hear them first, or find them later, scattered
throughout the narrative samples which introduce and explain
characters and link dramatic events from opera to opera. "Images"
lists all the characters in the cycle and the illustrations
for example, Brunnhilde (armor-clad, in mourning, with Wotan,
with Wotan's spear, etc.). It's all there, and can be accessed
by a number of different paths, which accommodate users with
many differing approaches to listening and learning from the
armchair Wagnerite, the student referencing specific information,
to the professor presenting a particular slice of the work.
Two onscreen toolbar ribbons---top and bottom---help you on
your journey. The top ribbon allows access to any of the four
operas and scenes, gives elapsed times, allows pause, rewind,
and fast forward much in the manner of a cassette or CD player.
A powerful search feature allows you to search a word or phrase:
for example, write in "Wintersturme" and the search yields
all the instances of the motif throughout the cycle.
The "help" function explains the upper and lower toolbars
and how to use them. The upper toolbar allows you to select
opera, act, and scene. Time buttons allow you to specify the
number of minutes and seconds into the current scene, or hours,
minutes and seconds into the cycle. You can listen to the
music watching and score or the translation, or both; a running
commentary can also be added. The commentary, with brief explanations
of what is happening musically, is a no-nonsense approach
to the musical score, designed for the first-time listener,
and will not yield much for the seasoned Wagnerite. (Example:
"Sieglinde soars to her highest note. The cadence ends with
the Wintersturme melody. Siegmund introduces the Bliss motif").
Succinct identifications of characters help jog the memory:
Wellgund, Woglinde, and Flosshilde are described as "water
nymphs charged by Father Rhine to guard the Rhinegold. They
do a rather poor job." If you care to stop and see what the
underlined words mean and where they lead you, you have only
to click on the words to uncover new information.
The lower toolbar allows you to choose instructional topics;
revisit the last topic; search for a word or phrase; toggle
display running commentary, score and libretto; or get help
you find the path back should you stray too far. The fun,
however, is in the interaction. Although there are interactive
CD ROM's available for other musical works, this one must
be termed unique for the amount of music and information compressed
on one disc.
Since 1965 (the first commercial audio recording of the Ring),
the work has been made available on long playing disks, some
commercial audio cassettes, compact discs, laser discs and
VHS television formats. There are not complete recordings
of the work in all of these media. Media Cafe's powerful audio
compression system has not only gotten the whole cycle on
one disc, but the musical quality is surprisingly good. The
hypertext links, analyses and search functions only increase
the user's access to this multi-dimensional resource. There
is a full-color image database which includes some rare and
unpublished archival photos, and more than 100 original essays
by Monte Stone and J. K. Holman. This CD disc will not play
in an audio CD player, but is designed only as a CD ROM application
for your computer. It is customized for a Pentium chip, so
Mac users are out of luck. There is registration for the purchase
and software support. Media Caf¹ maintains a Web site (http:///www.ringdisc.com)
where you can find the most recent information about The Ring
Disc, latest help and updated information. E-mail and telephone
service is also available.
Although much of the music of the Ring can be pleasurable
simply as music, the more one knows about the work, the more
layers of meaning can be uncovered. In his classic reference
to the Ring cycle, An Introduction to Richard Wagner's Der
Ring des Nibelungen, author William O. Cord states that "one
can fully appreciate the drama of the Ring only if one thoroughly
understands its argument, and an individual can greatly increase
enjoyment of its music by becoming familiar with the themes
at Wagner conceived and developed in the musical dramatization
of the poem." (139)
As Wagner himself wrote in 1851: "The Absolute, that is, the
unconditioned art work, which exists only in thought, is not
naturally bound to time or to place, and neither yet to definite
circumstance." If he could only have seen his monumental work
compressed onto a four and three quarter inch circular disc
he might have applauded. This sophisticated learning/reference
tool should be a valuable addition to personal libraries of
teachers, students, and opera fans. So go ahead. Surf the
Ring. It's quite a ride.
Classical Net Review: The Ring Disc | top |
by Steve Schwartz, 1997
An amazing CD-ROM. Imagine, if you will, a single CD that
gives you the entire Ring des Nibelüngen in Solti's
classic Decca performance with the Vienna Philharmonic, as
well as plot synopsis, piano-vocal score, German libretto
with English translation, a list of Leitmotivs, character
explications, and so on. I have no idea how they did this.
The price lists at $99.99 (US). It requires at least:
Pentium PC running Windows 95 or Windows NT
color with 800x600 screen resolution
sound card and speakers.
PC investment isn't cheap, but if you have this minimum configuration
already, you might look into this CD.
way that the authors of this software could give you so much
was to give you less than top-notch sound. This is not
a substitute for commercial CDs of the Ring. Solti's
version consists of fifteen discs, just to give you some idea
of the loss of sound quality. On the other hand, my computer
speakers and sound card can't reproduce CD sound as well as
my CD player, pre-amp, amplifier, subwoofer, and speakers,
so there's really no need for that level of sonic grandeur.
We have here a "study guide," not a performance.
number of different audiences, at different levels of musical
sophistication, addressed by the CD impresses me the most.
You can be a duffer, someone familiar with the cycle, a music
reader or non-reader, and the guide will give you help. I
would think the best way to start would be with the music
itself. While it plays, you can view the German-English libretto,
with a running description of the music in words which points
out salient features as they occur. If you happen to
read music, and you click on a hyperlink to a motiv to see
the notes that comprise the motiv. You can also follow along
with the piano-vocal score. About the only musical aspect
of the Ring the CD does not address fully is the orchestration,
although the running commentary does give you highlights.
glory and the problem of the Ring is its huge cast
of characters and its even larger number of musical cells,
or leading motives (Leitmotiven). Wagner begins with
little musical bits and builds mighty scena. Wagner wrote
to Liszt a letter expressing his amazement (he was probably
his own biggest fan) that his entire opera grew out of an
E-flat major triad. You can just about watch this unfold
through the guide in Das Rheingold's prelude and opening
scene, as one Leitmotiv after another bubbles out of
the increasingly complex counterpoint. However, Wagner's method
of composition in the Ring is to take these bits and
recombine them and vary them throughout the opera, in such
a way that they almost always comment dramatically upon the
action. How he kept it all straight is almost unfathomable,
since apparently he never explicitly charted these things.
Even the Ring enthusiast can learn something by tracing
the development and new contexts of these motives throughout
all four operas. The Leitmotiv list allows you to do
so easily. In fact, it's fairly easy to navigate through the
entire program. The instruction booklet is slim and sufficiently
commentary is clearly written, if not world-beatingly penetrating
in its insight, but real books are probably the best way to
get deeper into the cycle. This CD will give you a very solid
foundation to continue your acquaintance with this mind-boggling
monument of Romanticism.
should also mention, however, the great musicologist Deryck
Cooke's "An Introduction to Der Ring des Nibelungen,"
available on two London CDs (443 582-2). Decca originally
released these as a "companion" to Solti's cycle. It has 193
musical examples, a complete list of the motives used, and
Cooke's brilliant organizing mind which takes you through
the cycle practically motive by motive, without losing his
(or your) bearings. He also constructs elegant mini-arguments
about several issues in the Ring. This may still be
available from BMG Record Club.
all, the CD-ROM is a noteworthy achievement, and I recommend
it to novices and old operatic hands alike.
© Steve Schwartz, 1997.
The Ring Disc. One Ring to rule them all. | top |
Computer Games Online, 2.98, by Robert Mayer
Ring of the Nibelungen isn't precisely light entertainment,
though Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd once performed the German's
great work with more than a little panache. And though one
was once planned, it seems there isn't likely to be a computer
game covering the epic saga of Germanic gods, conniving dwarves,
and vainglorious mortals anytime soon. Still, the four operas
that compose the Ring cycle touch on themes that role-playing
game fans at least should relish: a cursed, ancient treasure;
oaths (to gods and men) betrayed; magic swords and fierce
dragons; Valkeries and magic potions. Not to mention incest,
murder, greed, infidelity, and oh yes, the twilight of the
gods. Quite a handful, especially for a body of work composed
well over a century ago. It would make a hell of a
game, though, wouldn't it?
With The Ring Disc, The Media Caf¹ has produced a fabulous
piece of work, even if it isn't anything close to a game.
Using proprietary techniques, the Urbana, Illinois-based publishing
company has managed to compress all 14.5 hours of the excellent
Sir George Solti, Vienna Philarmonic recordings of Das
Rheingold, Die Walk™re, Siegfried, and GðtterdØmmerung
onto one CD-ROM. Not bad, considering the operas normally
take well over a dozen CDs to record. The music is joined
by a complete piano score, running commentary, libretto (English
and German), extensive notes (on motifs, characters, and the
like), and a gallery of pictures from full-dress productions
of the operas. As the music plays (controlled by a VCR-like
tool bar), the score and libretto advance in sync, though
there are a multitude of views that can be adjusted to highlight
or exclude however much of the instructional material is desired.
Numerous hypertext links are scattered throughout the material,
leading to still more educational and entertaining tidbits;
a search function is also supported.
Running under Windows 95 or NT 4.0 on a Pentium, The Ring
Disc delivers remarkably good sound; how good will depend
on your sound card and speakers of course. Also remarkably,
the software runs entirely from the CD, requiring no installation
beyond a simple configuration file; while a quad-speed CD
is the minimum required, a faster drive wouldn't hurt. The
interface is relatively clean and simple, and the program
remembers where you left off in your perusal of the operas
the next time you listen. Though optimized for 800 by 600
resolution at 16-bit color depth, The Ring Disc handles
higher resolutions with aplomb. There really are no technical
glitches here, nothing to get between the audience and the
performance, but a Pentium really is required, as the technology
that makes this disc possible taxes the CPU something fierce.
The Ring Disc won't substitute for the nearly $200
set of CDs (available on the London label, and well worth
the price). It can't be played in a normal CD player, nor
is the sound quality 1000f a true audio disc; more like 75It's
close enough, though, and with a good sound card and quality
speakers, it holds up very well, as well as some low-budget
regular audio discs. As entertainment, it's also a winner.
No, it won't give you the chance to take Siegfried's place
and turn the tables on Hagen, nor will it allow you to battle
dragons or defy the gods, but The Ring Disc will certainly
put you in the mood for a good RPG or a session of 3D demon-bashing.
After all, this is the stuff of real myths, of real legends,
and who doesn't dream of Valhalla at least once in a while?
At a suggested retail price of $100, this isn't an impulse
purchase, but for Wagnerians, it's a deal Loki himself wouldn't
95 or NT 4.0
by 600 16-bit graphics
sound card and speakers
| top |