As part of the MA in Digital Humanities program, I have been tasked with undertaking a practicum at the Contemporary Music Centre. The goal of this practicum is get get first-hand experience at a cultural institution with the aim of producing a Digital Humanities project.
The Contemporary Music Centre (CMC) is Ireland’s most extensive and prominent resource for contemporary music. It houses the largest collection of manuscripts and recordings by Irish composers from the 20th and 21st centuries. For my practicum at the CMC, I have been putting together a digital exhibition that celebrates the career of the contemporary music ensemble Concorde. As of 2016, they are in their 40th year as an ensemble and as such, the CMC wanted to commemorate the history of the group digitally. This also ties in with the CMC’s complete re-modelling of their website, which went live in February. The challenges of this practicum thus-far have been many and varied, although with careful planning and consideration of both technologies and content, the project is slowly but surely falling into place.
At the end of this practicum, it is hoped that I will produce a working online exhibition space that charts the history of Concorde. I aim also with this exhibiition space to create a template for future exhibitions that CMC may want to use to commemorate other groups, composers, or performers.
Creating a Catalogue of Artefacts
One of the first issues that needed addressing was the content of the exhibition itself. This in itself is ongoing; Concorde’s founder, Jane O’Leary has provided a massive catalogue of artefacts, curios, and ephemera that chart forty years of the group’s existence. These comprise of photographs, concert programmes, letters of correspondence and audio recordings amongst a plethora of other items.
The concert programmes alone number over 300 at last count, with more being added by O’Leary. Most of these have been catalogued as a team in-house at the CMC, although the problem herein is to identify a running theme throughout these items that best represent the history of the group. At present, my goal has been to identify items that have either the greatest cosmetic or historic appeal. I have decided to keep this as a loose theme thus-far as I have not yet secured all of the artefacts that are available. Once these have been finalised, a definitive theme and collection for the exhibit will be decided upon.
The second challenge that presented itself was the issue of deciding which technologies I will use to get the job done. Initially, I had considered using a blogspace such as WordPress to display the exhibition space due to its expansive facilitation for customisation, however it is also limited in this regard. Placing items in a WordPress blog and displaying them is fine for its cosmetic value, although it does not properly catalogue these items or make them searchable. For this reason, I have decided instead to use Omeka to create the exhibit. Omeka specialises as a content management system, and is designed specifically to house digital exhibits. Using it, I can upload the artefacts and catalogue them using Dublin Core metadata standards. Another reason for choosing this is that although the exhibition will not be representative of the entire collection, after the project is finished the CMC may continue to add to the exhibit to whatever end that may be (ideally a complete catalogue of the Concorde artefacts).
One issue of using Omeka at present is my use of Omeka.net. This is Omeka’s free version, and is much less customisable than the full version, which requires the purchase of both a domain name and a server space. It also only allows 50 MB of storage, which even with the compression of the file size of the artefatcs will not be enough space to house the entire project. This is an issue that I hope to resolve in the near future, although it is not essential in the completion of the project. Despite this, I have managed to create a very basic version of a potential exhibition space incorporating some of the technologies I will use, which can be viewed here.
Having decided on using Omeka to create the exhibit, I have been using Balsamiq to create wire-frames for the site. Using Balsamiq, I can create wire-frames that illustrate to the CMC my intent for how one will navigate through the exhibition itself. The CMC expressed a desire that the exhibition itself house a timeline that displays the artefacts, and thus the groups history, chronologically. To address this, I have decided to implement Timeline JS, a timeline display software created by Knight Lab studios. This is a great piece of software that allows me to implement information from the excel sheets we have already compiled and display them neatly in such a way that is easily navigable for viewers of the exhibition. It also allows be to embed sound files, which I hope to embed from Soundcloud. Having done some test cases, I can embed the created timeline into Omeka rather easily. Knight Lab also facilitate a great audio tool called SoundCite, which allows the user to isolate pieces of audio to illustrate or bookmark sections of a narrative. The user clicks on a word or phrase at the end of a piece of text and the soundclip plays, like so. I hope to implement this software into the project to help musically illustrate Concorde’s story. I hope to do this with permission from the group by uploading snippets of audio to Soundcloud and embedding them into the Omeka page.
The Future of the Project
Through working closely in-house with the CMC and my mentor at MU, I have hopefully set the project firmly on the right track. I hope to resolve any of the issues I have met so far in the coming weeks, but overall I am quite please with the progress made on the project so far. I will be updating this blog in the future toward the completion of the practicum and will have a more rounded version of the exhibition for viewing.
“Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble.” 2016. Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble. <http://homepage.eircom.net/~concorde/proposals.html>.
Dabek, Meredith. “Helping IMMA Plan for the Future.” April 2015. WordPress.<http://dhblog.maynoothuniversity.ie/mdabek/2015/04/helpin g-imma-plan-for-the-future/>.
Morrison, Aimeé. “Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies (2008).