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Technology drives new eBook on America’s musical past

Technology Drives New eBook on America’s Musical Past
USC professor Jonathan Taplin began writing Outlaw Blues 18 months ago.

USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism professor Jonathan Taplin’s enhanced eBook about the 1960s and ’70s music revolution allows readers to experience the era’s memorable sights and sounds through embedded videos and songs.

Outlaw Blues: Adventures in the Counter-Culture Wars features 105 videos throughout its 460 digital pages. It is the first product of a long-term deal between Apple and the Annenberg Innovation Lab that enables USC professors to publish books specifically designed for a digital medium.

“When we started the lab, one of the things we first thought was that the eBook had to grow beyond being just a book on a tablet,” Taplin said. “Why not take all these multimedia capabilities through the iPad and really enhance what the future of books will look like? So that’s what we did.”

But Taplin’s ebook is more than new technology and an enjoyable multimedia experience. It gives readers a glimpse of a time when music and art were a driving force behind the U.S. cultural movement during the Vietnam War era.

“I hope it will be inspiring to today’s youth when they see the way that music and art can actually change society,” he said. “That’s what I experienced in the ’60s and ’70s. The counterculture really did change society, and the artists and the filmmakers made a difference. They weren’t just entertainers.”

Taplin draws on experiences with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Martin Scorsese that changed the cultural landscape of America. Though much of the book centers on musicians and filmmakers Taplin worked with from 1965 to 1995, it also is the story of the roots of that era and American artists – H. D. Thoreau, Mark Twain, Orson Welles and Allen Ginsberg – the “mad ones” who made much of what U.S. culture is today.

“The political and the cultural were perfectly fused in those remarkable years when we tried to make sense of John Kennedy’s assassination by fulfilling his dream of a just society,” Taplin wrote in the book’s opening pages.

Taplin worked with USC Gould School of Law professor Jack Lerner and a team of law students to determine which songs and videos legally could be used in the book. Taplin calls Lerner, director of the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic, one of the country’s leading experts on fair use in the digital age.

Other USC staff members were instrumental in getting Outlaw Blues published just 18 months after Taplin began writing it.

Lee Warner of USC Annenberg’s Department of Facilities & Technology figured out how to compress the videos in a way that kept exceptional quality while maintaining a small file size. The complete book with embedded multimedia is only 354 megabytes – about half of the memory available on a standard CD-ROM.

Taplin said professor Anne Balsamo, who has a joint appointment at USC Annenberg and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, was critical in helping him bring out certain elements of the book.

“This book shows that the Annenberg Innovation Lab is actually producing things that are getting out into the real world,” Taplin said. “It’s not just theoretical. We’re innovating in a way that will be helpful to other professors and those who want a better way to learn.”

Taplin began his entertainment career in 1969 as tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band. In 1973, he produced Mean Streets, Scorsese’s first feature film, which was selected for the Cannes Film Festival.

Between 1974 and 1996, Taplin produced 26 hours of television documentaries and 12 feature films. He also is the founder of Intertainer, the first video on demand service delivered over IP Networks.

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