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Stories, songs, steps, and tunes: a linked data ontology for Irish traditional music and dance

Linked data has shown great promise in cultural heritage and digital humanities applications, making cultural heritage materials accessible to wider audiences via the Semantic Web. For cultural heritage materials, accurate description of and relationships to other objects within a collection or between other collections is essential to enabling access to these materials. Because linked data provides flexibility in several key areas, including appropriate levels of detail, ability to accommodate a myriad of relationship types, and the ability to choose precise vocabulary and descriptions, it is ideal for use in representing Irish traditional music and other world music traditions1.

According to Pattuelli, "Ontologies represent agreed domain semantics,2" also noting the particular challenges of representing digital cultural heritage materials. Among the few music ontologies developed, none adequately express orally-based traditions like Irish traditional music and dance. Music traditions propagated primarily through oral transmission have additional considerations and present unique representational challenges outside current knowledge organization frameworks, the majority of which are based upon the norms of Western Classical and Western Popular music.3, 4 An ontology based upon the considerations of oral transmission will allow such items to be described and related to one another using more appropriate terms and more accurate relationships than current music ontologies allow.

Stories and narrative play a large part in orally-based transmission of Irish traditional music and dance, infusing relationships between people– and between people, dance, and music information objects–with layers of nuance and complexity. A current project focuses on the development of the first linked data ontology specifically to address the needs of Irish traditional song, instrumental music and dance, and by extension serve as a reference point for other linked data projects involving orally-based music traditions. This brief presentation will describe several key issues related to the linked data ontology construction. Specifically, the paper will describe challenges of accurately representing complex musical relationships: musician-musician; musician-music; music-dance; variants of tunes; where the musical variation ends and the act of composition begins; and, Irish language and English language equivalents in musician, tune, and geographic place names. Once completed, the ontology will enable future opportunities for digital discovery, exploration, and facilitate meaningful research connections in a variety of humanities and social science disciplines.


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