Richard Freedman Digital Dialogue at MITH | November 3, 2015

Music, Technology, and Digital Scholarship

  1. On November 3, 2015, MITH was happy to welcome Richard Freedman, Professor of Music at Haverford College, and Digital and Multimedia Scholarship editor for the Journal of the American Musicological Society. Freedman's talk addressed both the current state and changing face of digital musicology, including the state of the field in general (trends, examples, tools, etc); addressing challenges facing the field; and looking close at the Duchemin Lost Voices project as a case study of digital humanities scholarship as applied to music history:
  2. Just as sound recording and now digital technology has evolved rapidly to accommodate the field of music in the contemporary moment, using the printed format for music was a new technological development in the 16th century. Nicolas Du Chemin was a newcomer to the field during this time, and was an important arbiter of fashions and trends in music and poetry. The repertory of polyphonic songs on which Lost Voices focuses (all French secular poetry), is an example of the modern challenges that were presented at the time of their printing.
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  4. Important considerations in early music printing include the placement of the notes alongside the text, the coordination of the page turns (as partbooks only displayed one part, which was meant to accompany others simultaneously), and other musical notation considerations. We may now take these for granted, but at the time were very sophisticated advances.
  5. All of this was crucial to the shift in notions of a piece of music as a controlled and regimented work with distinct authorship. In the midst of this, Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso obtained the first legal authorial control and obtained the first official recognition of an intellectual property right for musical works.
  6. In discussing the first phase of Lost Voices (2008-2010), in which a hub was created with digital facsimiles, transcriptions and commentaries of the works, Freedman walked through some of the basics of digital music encoding, including the use of the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI), which does for musical texts what the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) has done for literature.
  7. All of the above work was essentially in the service of another goal, which is to address the pieces of this musical corpus which are, to this day, 'lost.' By gaining focused access to the extant portions which do remain, users can use what they've learned to recompose the missing parts. This is not so much to determine a definitive complete work as to facilitate a scholarly conversation about these works.
  8. By applying research conclusions gained from a close reading of the encoded music, Freedman and his project partners were able to determine distinct patterns, trends and a controlled vocabulary that was then used to mark up the encoded works and create over 11,000 individual 'events' over two summer terms. Students were assigned to apply the identified principles to perform this work, sometimes overlapping (i.e. 2-3 students marking up the same piece to see where and if different conclusions were drawn).
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  10. As a central hinging point for this work, the project focused on cadences. Because of their importance as indicators of patterns in composition, Freedman spent time breaking down how his team determined patterns of archetypical composition, using visualizations and networks of similarity.
  11. Freedman's group is now extending the project, so that works can be examined at the measure level. A major component of this research is the Enhancing Music Addressability (EMA) project which is being co-led with MITH's Research Programmer Raffaele Viglianti.
  12. Freedman now moved onto the section of his talk where he addresses the state of the field as a whole, citing notable projects and scholars operating within it. The first project of mention was the Josquith Research Project at Stanford, directed by Jesse Rodin, which allows for a comparative analysis of the works of Josquin des Prez.
  13. Next he pointed out the music21 project, led by Mike Cuthbert at MIT, a Python-based project which allows users to analyze and find patterns within any set of encoded musical works.
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