The one-two punch of multimedia-capable computers and the CD-ROM medium allowed for content of unprecedented size and richness. Reference work publishers benefited from this in particular: when you can fit an encyclopedia on a single disc with room to spare, enhancing that content with interactive media is the next logical step. This led to the pre-Internet, decade-long reference CD-ROM boom, responsible in collective memory mostly for Microsoft Encarta 95‘s MindMaze game.
At their best, these enhancements brought out the greater educational mission of reference CD-ROMs. More than collections of facts, they were about applying information in service of ideas. Look to Electronic Arts 3D Atlas to see how that could work – and how music anchored the experience.
EA 3D Atlas is, on its surface, an interactive globe. But much of the content within the program (especially its video tours) deals the political and environmental instability that threatens the planet’s future. Those are heady themes, and the program’s ambient soundtrack plays to that seriousness.
These two pieces composed by Martin Seager accompany the Environmental World and Physical World screens. Neither section is especially charged, but the music elevates them from simple maps to Pale Blue Dot-esque reflections on the Earth’s fragility. Even though you’re not looking at maps that show great consequence – those are elsewhere – Seager’s ethereal flutes and sloshing ambiance evoke the planet’s delicateness and the scarcity of its resources. When those are your auditory cues, it’s difficult to look at a nature-covered globe with anything but knowing dread.
Other multimedia additions to EA 3D Atlas address these concerns more directly, as with its micro-documentaries about climate change and human conflict, but Seager’s music draws on that message in places that otherwise lack it. This program unmistakably has more on its plate than showing you where to find capital cities, even when just displaying a map.