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In search of the item: Irish traditional music, archived fieldwork and the digital


In the past ten years, a growing number of digital projects have emerged within archives, and they have placed a focus on using Linked Data to facilitate connections to be made between music related materials across the World Wide Web. Projects such as Linked Jazz exemplify the possibilities that can be achieved between researchers, digital experts and archivists. Recent developments for Irish traditional music at the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) in Dublin, Ireland mean that the genre can also now be described using an extensive ontology, LITMUS (Linked Irish Traditional Music). In 2019, we engaged this ontology within a digital project entitled Connections in Sound, exploring the challenges and possibilities for Linked Data based on audio collections of Irish traditional music from the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The project adapted an experimental approach to enriching metadata from audio materials of Irish traditional music, song and dance at the AFC by creating and working with proof-of-concept resources. Using the project entitled Connections in Sound as a case study, this paper will demonstrate the challenges, opportunities and particularities related to engaging a range of fieldwork and transcribed metadata as Linked Data. This paper suggests that the work of experimenting with certain types of non-commercial digital audio material for use in datasets and digital infrastructures informs ways to represent diversity of musical traditions in the archive and across the World Wide Web.

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  1. In Irish traditional music, some examples exist that support the claim that archival audio recordings can contribute to the performance of music within the tradition. For example, in the 1950s in Dublin, Ireland, a number of acetate disc recordings were made of traveller uilleann piper Johnny Doran and it may be argued that these recordings held by the National Folklore Commission in Dublin have made quite an impact on the piping styles of many musicians within Ireland and beyond. This material contributes to the claim that archival field recordings can play role in musical traditions, even though direct connections between the archive and these communities have not been made explicit. This may occur as a result of the ways that archival materials are utilised, for example during process by which they are packaged and issued as part of the commercial recordings made by traditional musicians.

  2. Some grass roots projects grew out of the Web 1.0 movement in the mid-1990s. For example, the 1850 Irish traditional music melodies were transcribed from book form into electronic format by a group of musicians under the leadership of Dan Beimborn and John Chambers, using the ABC music notation language. Their work has since been made freely available on the Internet, now accessible only via The Wayback Machine. Others include “The Fiddler’s Companion” by Andrew Kuntz, which includes lore alongside item descriptions.


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This research was generously funded by both the Kluge Center Fellowship in Digital Studies at the Library of Congress, and the Fulbright Commission’s Tech Impact award, 2019.

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Correspondence to Patrick Egan.

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Egan, P. In search of the item: Irish traditional music, archived fieldwork and the digital. Arch Sci 23, 45–63 (2023).

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