Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

Turning Music Catalogues into Archives of Musical Scores-Or Vice Versa: Music Archives and Catalogues Based on MEI XML

Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

Turning Music Catalogues into Archives of Musical Scores-Or Vice Versa: Music Archives and Catalogues Based on MEI XML

Article excerpt

1. Background

Preservation Issues

A characteristic feature of research data produced in the humanities is that they have a relatively long lifecycle compared to data from other fields such as medicine or computer science. In musicology, research data and tools such as catalogues of musical works and manuscripts may be useful for decades or even centuries. This lifespan fits quite well the concept of a printed book, which also may have a lifespan of several centuries. In digital media, however, storage media and modes of presentation have a much shorter life expectancy. A web page or web application is likely to be judged old-fashioned after five years' time; the chances that it will exist for another five years are small. (2)

The same is true with data that are dependent on a specific piece of software. New versions of commercial software products are typically released at intervals of about two years. Such new versions may be backwards compatible, but sooner or later backwards compatibility is likely to break, or the software product is discontinued, dooming software-specific data to be lost unless they are migrated to other formats in due time while the appropriate software or knowledge necessary is still available. Therefore, the risk of loss is far greater with proprietary, encrypted data formats than with open standards for which documentation is readily available. Furthermore, translation processes from one format to another are usually not lossless. Certain features or information from the original files will most probably be lost in the process.

Archives of data such as digital libraries holding a variety of data formats are facing huge challenges when it comes to preserving these data. In Denmark, a change of the legal deposit law is in preparation, allowing The Royal Library to collect digital files as the primary legal deposit format instead of printed media. In the near future--perhaps as early as 2015--publishers may no longer be obliged to send a printed copy of each book to The Royal Library as legal deposit; instead they may have to send a copy of some digital file representing the publication. (3) As a consequence, the library must be able to handle, archive, and to some degree maintain the readability of whatever files it receives PDF files in most cases, but possibly also various kinds of word processor or layout software formats, and, when it comes to music, perhaps even different music notation software files. The mere preservation of these files as they are regardless of format--the so-called bit preservation, without any interpretation of their contents--is itself a technical challenge, (4) which is outside the scope of this article, however. The future interpretation of the file contents, that is, the ability to extract the contents intact at a time when the original software used to create them is no longer available, poses a completely different problem, and one that should be addressed already in the planning stages of digital archives.

Aims of the Danish Centre for Music Publication

The Danish Centre for Music Publication (DCM) (5) is not primarily concerned with library or archival functions, despite its status as a part of The Royal Library. DCM is concerned with the publication of scholarly editions of music as well as thematic catalogues of musical works. Thus producing data having a long lifespan, DCM does have a strong interest in the preservation of musicological research data and publications too.

When DCM was established in 2009, its principal aims were defined to be 1) the production of scholarly editions of music and other publications related to music, and 2) the further development of editorial methodologies and tools for communicating research results. The editions of music produced by DCM are not truly digital yet, though--that is, they are not yet based on a file format allowing, for instance, the encoding and optional display of critical comments, or the switching between readings from different sources. …

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