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Kris Pang for Spectator

Eamonn Bell and Russell O'Rourke (left to right) began the Troubadour Encoding Project as a means of preserving the final 300 surviving troubadour songs.

In a collision of old and new, the Early Music in the Digital Domain presentation will explore how technology can increase our understanding of early music, some of which was composed nearly a millennium ago.

The conference, which will take place at 4 p.m. in 622 Dodge Hall, includes three projects—the Marenzio Project, the Troubador Encoding Project, and the Lost Voices Project—all with the intention of both preserving and studying these musical forms in the digital age.

The objective of the Marenzio Project is to provide an online interface for 16th-century composer Luca Marenzio's secular music. The project includes critical commentary and historical information along with an interactive musical score that is intended for use by scholars, performers, and students.

"Very often, on the humanities side, people do not realize what is possible," said Laurent Pugin, professor at the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales in Switzerland and software engineer for the Marenzio Project. "On the other side, on the technology side, it's an issue of not seeing exactly the needs for this type of project."

The many editions of Marenzio's music that the research team have collected are combined through a software application that allows users to dynamically pick which version of particular score elements—such as optional flats and sharps or a translation of a text—to view. A prototype of the resource may be accessible online for free as soon as next month.

"What we want to do here is to retain the dynamic nature of music as an object by creating an online edition that can actually represent the fluid existence of music over time," said Giuseppe Gerbino, professor of historical musicology at Columbia and a co-principal investigator for the project.

The music is digitally encoded using a standard known as the Music Encoding Initiative, which allows different research teams to share their work across projects and examine compositional quotations more easily.

Isabella Livorni, BC '15, has spent the past two summers working on the Marenzio Project. She helped convert microfilm of one book of madrigals into digital images and then performed two phases of image-to-score processing.

"This project is important because you have everything in one place—you can compare the variance," Livorni said.

The Lost Voices Project, which is both a digital score and a scholarly social network, was publicly launched in mid-September and also uses the MEI standard.

The music included in the project existed in the form of separate books for each vocal part, printed by Nicolas Du Chemin in the 16th century. Some parts have since been lost, and the site provides a platform through which scholars can share their reconstructions of the missing parts and  have conversations about the material.

"I reconstructed several pieces, which, as a composer, was especially fun for me—I was able to be creative while at the same time respecting the stylistic boundaries of the music," said Trey Toy, CC '14, who has helped with the musical analysis and reconstruction for this project.

Unlike the other two projects, the Troubadour Encoding Project does not aim to provide a critical edition of musical scores. Rather, the TEP makes archaic music usable in the digital era. Started about five months ago by Eamonn Bell and Russell O'Rourke, both second-year Ph.D. students at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the project places analytical aims at the forefront.

"The goal is just to put them [the songs] into a machine-readable format so they can be used in conjunction with computer programs to give a census of common stylistic patterns, so we can answer questions about mode and common melodic patterns," Bell said.

These three projects have demonstrated the unique potentials of digital media to represent early musical forms, for which flexibility is key.

"We have new possibilities because we've got better technology," Pugin said.

Early Music in the Digital Domain will take place on Oct. 24 at 4 p.m. in 622 Dodge Hall. Admission is free.

arts@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec 

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