Bursary Reports 2019

 

Jennifer Ward, Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM), Universität Mainz

Workshop: Digital Musicology

 

I was interested in attending the workshop on Digital Musicology because while my job at Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM) and my PhD research frequently give me a front-row seat to the results of digital tools applied to music research, I wanted to take a few steps back and learn the tools that make the data come alive. It was an honor for me to be able to attend the Digital Musicology strand as a bursary holder.

 

The DHOxSS workshop format is an ideal way for musicologists to become familiar with the concepts and tools that guide data-driven approaches to musicology. The week was broadly divided into three modules that focused on digital audio, digital notation, and digital descriptions. The structure of the class sessions was mixed so that lectures alternated with chunks of time to practice new tools. A variety of scholars and practitioners shared how digital tools were used in their research, and then we could try out the tools for ourselves.

 

I knew the week was going well when I ran out of space in my notebook on Wednesday, so thought-provoking were the lectures. So many new (to me) approaches, projects, and tools were presented, yet enough time was given for practice that we could reinforce the new methods. Concepts that I had a passing familiarity with were concretized, not only during the hands-on parts of the workshop, but also through interactions with other Summer School participants, the poster session, and the supplementary lectures in the late afternoons and evenings.

 

And that was another benefit of DHOxSS: the cross-disciplinary nature of the digital humanities that could be explored outside of the strand. Hearing digital humanists talk about non-musicology work showed broader implications of digital approaches and helped draw overarching ideas together. For example, Robert Iliffe's talk about the Newton Project left me pondering the notion that "'good enough' is good enough" in terms of data quality and findability (a challenging concept for catalogers who love clean data), while Marieke van Erp's talk about collaborating across disciplines whetted my appetite—for the first time in my life, I think it is safe to say—for historical apple pie recipes.

 

DHOxSS had surprises in store for me every day of the week. At times, it was like learning a foreign language, but things kept coming together. A highlight for me was taking an untitled page of music (literally, a piece of paper) from a Renaissance partbook and then having the computer identify it, which brought it all together: machine learning, coding in Python, optical music recognition (OMR), and feature extraction. When the computer gave me the correct name of the composer, I thought, "Now this is digital musicology!"

 

At DHOxSS I was able to build up skills I need to better engage with people who use my project's data and it also gave me tools to ask new and different questions in my dissertation research. The workshop was brilliantly organized by Kevin Page and the speakers he brought together consistently left me with the impression that we were listening to people at the absolute top of the field. I would like to thank Kevin, David Lewis, and the week's lecturers for leading us through the workshop, and of course also to DHOxSS for supporting my attendance.

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