Big (Work) Data: Making and Using MEI for Composers’ Digital Work Catalogues

Authors: Gammert, Jonathan / Neumann, Joshua / Richts-Matthaei, Kristina

Date: Thursday, 7 September 2023, 4:15pm to 5:45pm

Location: Main Campus, L 1 <campus:stage>


Interrogating any source philologically requires first the collection or creation and curation of data, whether analogue or digital. This praxis requires increasingly interdisciplinary methodologies as musicology continues its digital turn—methodologies that are most quickly applied to a project through collaboration. A natural output of such projects undertaken at the scale of collected works is a catalogue documenting metadata, which account for an author’s or composer’s output. These catalogues can also establish intellectual histories of these corpora and, for major figures, (i.e. – those with voluminous works and expressions or manifestations thereof), they establish paradigms of what constitutes “Big Data” in these fields.

Moreover, they invite examination of the terminology used. Is it simply “Data” and “Metadata” that researchers can enrich through authority data? Does it expand to some other qualifier such as “Big Data,” “Deep Data,” or “Broad Data,” even with the various challenges inherent to each? However one qualifies these datasets can understandably affect the ways in which creators, curators, and users interact with them. Considerations in this regard, combined with assessment of the nature of the dataset in question, whether extant or projected, and design thinking practices of end-user/stakeholder input lead to individually tailored solutions.

Two collaboratively born datasets are currently in progress in the context of NFDI4Culture, the national Consortium for Research Data on Material and Immaterial Cultural Heritage in Germany. Each one focuses on (research) data management, metadata, documentation, and digital transformation. One collaboration in early stages is creating conceptual and digital infrastructures for the transformation of metadata for the works of Georg Philipp Telemann. A unique challenge in this interdisciplinary cooperation is how to handle, at a fundamental level, a myriad of idiosyncrasies unique 18th-century compositional praxis as they emerge in Telemann’s c. 5,000 works. This project establishes the digital infrastructure through the Metadata editor and repository for MEI data (MerMEId) for the online Telemann catalogue, which will soon be published in phases by the Telemann-Zentrum Magdeburg. Another dataset, nearing publication in Radar4Culture, contains approximately 33,000 files (c. 3,000 work files and c. 30,000 source files) resulting from the Joseph Haydn Werke. Collaboration was essential in this project to preserve data contents while transforming from a single-use schema into MEI.

These datasets, primarily comprised of metadata, constitute two contributions of value for musicologists and the MEI and TEI communities. The poster presents a collaborative approach to data transformation into MEI from previous formats, addresses specific challenges associated therewith, and highlights a cooperation model that actively contributes to broader digital philology communities of text and music.

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