Now that our new Systems Developer Zoltán Kömíves is in post, our whole project is gradually moving its focus from the source materials to our eventual outputs. Or, to put it another way, the questions are changing from ‘What have we got here?’ to ‘What are we doing with it and how?’
One of our eventual outcomes will be to produce a web resource containing, amongst other things, a selection of our original sources, and one of the current questions about this resource is how we choose to represent the music in metadata, to be helpful to as many potential users as possible. I’ll leave the technicalities of describing the various encoding possibilities to Zoltán, but this morning we had a chance to eavesdrop on one kind of potential user, as 4th year BMus student Andy Stevenson came up to our bass culture lair with his work-in-progress edition of Alexander Napier’s 1788 fiddle MS, from the Montagu Music Collection of the Duke of Buccleuch.
He was looking for some help in identifying the more obscure tunes, so we sat down with Charles Gore’s Scottish Music Index and the enormous spreadsheet of notes and library locations that Karen and I have been compiling for the last year and a half, and got to work, occasionally reaching across the room for photocopies of rare old music books. It was quite exciting, discovering previously unknown (we think) variation sets and unusual versions of tunes, by charting the similarities to the versions we know, and those encoded in Gore’s skeletal tune codes. Sometimes the tune codes work very well, and at other times they lead you up blind alleys or bypass lots of really important information that would be just around the corner, if you knew where or how to look.
So by the end of the afternoon, we’d digested this experience enough to have one of those conversations like in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: ‘OK, your iPad is the downbeat of bar 3, this book is the beginning of the tune, and where my hand is wiggling is about 20 different lines that follow that sort of curve, and what we’re looking for is to analyse the level of similarity between that squiggle there and this more angular line with less data in it over here, in an effort to …’ Well, you get the idea.