bajgoric300Welcome to an experience beyond the reach of a freestanding book or page: a multimedia, hyperlinked eEdition of an oral performance. Using this site you can do more than just read about an oral performance — to a degree you can actually join the audience. That is, you won’t be limited to simply poring over a silent, uncontextualized text; you can also listen to 1030 lines of epic singing and musical accompaniment, learn about the singer’s life and repertoire, scan a quick synopsis of the story-line, consult the commentary or idiomatic dictionary, and much more — usually without leaving the main Performance page.

An instance of Bosnian oral tradition

The story "told" by this site is an epic from Bosnia, a long South Slavic poem that was composed orally in performance by a bard, or guslar, named Halil Bajgorić. Although Bajgorić was non-literate, he could, as a member of a centuries-old oral tradition, sing epics of considerable length about heroes from the glory days of the Ottoman Empire, as far back as the fourteenth century. His story didn’t originate in a book, it wasn’t transmitted as a book, and in this eEdition it returns to a bookless format.

What you find on this site also exists, minus the audio recording, as a conventional published volume entitled The Wedding of Mustajbey’s Son Bećirbey as Performed by Halil Bajgorić. Of course, that version segregates the parts that are reaggregated in this eEdition, which adds back the voice and instrumental accompaniment as well. Another way to describe the difference between media is that while the book amounts to a piecemeal chronicle of various aspects of the event, the eEdition seeks to re-create the event as a single composite whole.

In short, then, an eEdition, a facility developed at the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri, attempts to restore some of what gets lost when a living, experienced reality is reduced to a silent, fossilized text.

Static pages

Let’s first consider the static pages on the site, as enumerated in the menu bar to the right. In addition to a scrollable transcription and translation of Halil Bajgorić’s 1935 performance, you will find a digitized version of the actual recording as inscribed on aluminum records during the original fieldwork undertaken by Milman Parry and Albert Lord, and now deposited in the Milman Parry Collection at Harvard University. Thus the "View Text Translation" link leads to a pdf file of the entire epic in both the original language (lefthand column) and an English translation (righthand column), while the "Play Audio" link will bring up an mp3 audio file of the entire performance in whatever default player you are using. Additionally, the various parts of the published book — the Introduction, the Synopsis, the Portrait of the Singer, the Performance, the Apparatus Fabulosus (story-based glossary), the Commentary, Nikola Vujnović’s Resinging (a comparison of transcriptions), the chapter on The Role of Music, the chapter on Performatives, and the Bibliography — are easily and immediately available as static files simply by clicking on the appropriate link in the menu bar.

Hyperlinked pages

Beyond the static contents of the eEdition, reader-users can also take advantage of three kinds of hyperlinked resources that will appear on the main Performance page, always in the scrollable box to the right of the translation.

Level 1: Apparatus fabulosus. The first set of links consists of highlighted and underlined words and phrases in the English translation; clicking on any one of them will bring up the traditional idiomatic associations of that particular element, presenting a brief summary in the small box. For example, the link to "arose early" in line 1 of the performance yields the information that this formulaic phrase "has only nominally to do with the named person’s actual awakening at a given hour" and advises that "its idiomatic role is to start up a tale or a prominent section within a tale."

Level 2: Commentary. The orange "C" opposite various lines of the translation is electronically linked to the appropriate section of the performance-based commentary. Clicking on the "C" opposite line 1, for instance, will bring up an explanation for the attention-getting interjection (Oj!) that begins the performance. Again, this advice appears in the scrollable box.

Level 3: Nikola Vujnović’s Resinging. Finally, clicking on the green "NVR" will summon a comparison of my transcription with that done by Nikola Vujnović, with the data again positioned in the same box. The purpose of this set of links is to illustrate the ways in which the native speaker Vujnović, also a traditional epic singer himself, recomposed the poem as he transcribed it.

Customizable possibilities for users

Thus reader-users have a number of customizable possibilities before them. They can consult each static part of the performance separately, concentrating on either the textualized words or the audio or the commentary, for example. Or they can choose to combine certain parts of the site, by playing the audio as they read the text, for instance; or by comparing the acoustic reality of the audio with the discussion of the role of music as explained in that chapter; or by meshing other static sections of the eEdition.

But, because certain features of this site are also hyperlinked to the Performance page, another possibility exists, and it is this richer, interactive use that best exploits the representational power of the eEdition. In the interactive scenario, reader-users (1) open the Performance page, (2) start up the audio recording, and (3) navigate as they wish from the transcription and translation to any of three linked resources — apparatus fabulosus, commentary, or comparison of transcriptions. Most importantly of all, they can accomplish these multiple activities concurrently and without leaving the main Performance page. What the site ultimately aims to do, then, is to reintegrate the various parts of the oral epic performance, to undo the dismemberment that was necessary in order to fit the living experience between the covers of a book. In other words, by electronically reintegrating what the book medium segregates, the eEdition "resynchronizes the event".

The Pathways Project

In broader perspective, this eEdition (and another like it to be mounted in 2006) constitute one initiative under the larger and more general umbrella of the Pathways Project, a media-suite that explores similarities between humankind’s oldest and newest communications technologies: oral tradition (OT) and the internet (IT). Toward this end we are experimenting with a multimedia facility — a "brick-and-mortar" book suspended in an electronic network of eEditions, eCompanions, a developmental blog, a tagged database, and a syndicator that will automatically inform subscribers of updates to the site via RSS syndication. Through construction of this composite instrument we hope to accomplish two goals simultaneously: to demonstrate the correspondences between OT and IT as twin technologies that function via navigating pathways, and to embody those correspondences in a practical, useful tool for representation and research.