I say data, you say data

John Stinson and Jason Stoessel, “Encoding Medieval Music Notation for Research,” Early Music 42, no. 4 (2014): 613–17. doi: 10.1093/em/cau093.

What do medieval music and computers have to do with each other, especially since the only “calculators” in the fourteenth century were clever sophists and theologians from Oxford? Well, it turns out quite a bit. The latest issue of Early Music, guest edited by Dan Tidhar, contains numerous articles on the theme of Early Music and modern technology. Several articles examine how computer-assisted research is revolutionising some of the ways music historians can approach medieval music.


John Stinson—whose work on the pioneering Medieval Music Database at the dawn of the internet age is well known to many readers—and I were fortunate enough to be able to make a modest contribution to this issue concerning our recent collaboration exploring how to adapt the data files encoded using Stinson’s Scribe software to a new format useful for internet computing. Rather than repeat what is in the article, please read the abstract below and follow this link to a copy of the article, thanks to Oxford University Press’s generosity, for personal research/study purposes only. Enjoy!

In 1984, John Stinson and Brian Parish developed Scribe, a computer program to encode every meaningful mark on each page of a medieval music manuscript and produce an on-screen representation of these data in both medieval and modern notation. Scribe data have proved essential for creating statistical and comparative analyses, compositional analyses and producing online thematic indices for the Medieval Music Database over a large body of music. Even though the Scribe still functions in cross-platform DOS-emulated computer environments, the growth of Digital Humanities, linked open data and enormous potential for online research collaboration offers a series of opportunities for encoded medieval music notation data. This report details the authors’ efforts since 2013 in converting Scribe’s data into open access data based upon the standard being developed by the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI). When coupled with recent developments in the Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) project, our new Scribe-based module, known as NeoScribe, offers significant enhancements to the MEI standard that stand to benefit current and future developments in digital musicology.

PS. I highly recommend the preceding article in this issue of Early Music, “Early music and the Music Encoding Initiative by Perry RolandAndrew Hankinsonand Laurent Pugin, which nicely summarises the development and nature of the Music Encoding Initiative.

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