Modelling Complex Multimedia Relationships in the Humanities Computing Context: Are Dublin Core and FRBR up to the Task?

  1. 1. J. Stephen Downie

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  2. 2. Allen Renear

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  3. 3. Adam Mathes

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  4. 4. Karen Medina

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  5. 5. David Dubin

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  6. 6. Jin Ha Lee

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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It is now widely recognized that the creation, management,
and analysis of content other than text is extremely
important if the digital humanities are to deliver access to, and
provide an analytical purchase on, the full range of human
culture. However it is not clear to us whether the cataloguing
and classification systems for digital content are up to the task.
Difficulties in this area threaten to impede both the development
of tools and techniques — and the production of sound
theoretical results. In our paper we discuss some of these
problems, focusing on relationships amongst the various
cultural modes of expression. With the intention of convening
a larger discussion of how these confusions might be remedied,
we then propose directions for some clarification and
improvement. However, the larger issues here are not merely
terminological and resist any easy resolution.
The Problem
Within the humanities computing community it has been
a commonplace that while the emphasis on representing
and analyzing textual content may be understandable, it is
important to support the other kinds of content as well. We
agree. The 'digital humanities' must support the full range of
human cultural products: text, music, images, dance, cinema,
architecture, design, and so on. At present there are many
different research communities looking into the organization
of, and enhanced access to, these various modes of cultural
expression. There is a text retrieval community (see Baez-Yates
& Ribeiro-Neto), a growing music information retrieval
community (see Futrelle & Downie), an image retrieval
community (see Hsin-liang & Rasmussen), and so on.
Notwithstanding the real progress being made by each of these,
very astonishingly little work has yet been done to
comprehensively address the issue that each of these individual
modes of expression interact with each other in the ordinary
course of production, management and use, as well as how
formats at varying level of abstraction interact within a single
First, to illustrate how the modes of expression interact with
each other, let us consider the Othello corpus. An incomplete
inventory of the Othello corpus includes the novella by Giraldi
Cinthio (1565) "upon which Shakespeare based his play"
(Hunt), Shakespeare's play (1604), the operas by Rossini (1816)
and Verdi (1887), Dvorak's concert overture, Op. 93 (1892),
and the ballet by Lubovitch (2002). If we are going to create a
digital humanities repository worthy of use by humanities
scholars and their students, it is incumbent on us to build a
system that can 'collocate', or gather up, all extant digital
representations of Othello: all recordings, all scores, all movies,
all choreographies, all libretti, all scripts, all set and costume
designs, all critiques, and so on. To aid in this collocation, we
need to clearly express the relationships between each of these
things at both the specific and generic levels. On the specific
level, we need to indicate that, for example, Othello
choreographic labanotation W is directly based on Othello
score X , which was specifically used in Othello movie Y ,
and also released in Othello soundtrack recording Z . On the
generic level, we need to indicate that all Othello scores have
some generic relationship to all Othello recordings, to all
Othello movies, etc. in such a way that explicates that the works
are all members of the Othello corpus.
Second, to illustrate interactions between formats within a
single mode, consider only the music mode of the Othello
corpus. For each musical realization there usually exists a
symbolic score and its individual parts. These symbolic
representations can, in turn, be represented in a variety of digital
formats: MusicXML, TIFF, Finale, etc. The aural aspect of the
music is represented in another variety of digital formats: WAV,
MP3, Ogg Vorbis, etc. Again, complex relationships exist
between the 'symbolic' and 'aural' representations at both the
specific (e.g., recording X used score Y) and generic levels (e.g.,
a 'fakebook' score used to generate different recordings of improvised renditions). Other potentially complex relationships
exist because many of these formats can be used to generate
the others. For example, a TIFF scan of the 'original' score can
be fed through an Optical Music Recognition (OMR) system
to create a MusicXML score file which can generate a MIDI
file which then can generate any of the audio file formats.
Further complicating matters, research is also underway to
'backwards' create scores from audio recordings which would
capture, symbolically, the nuances of a given performance (e.g.,
Plumbley et al.).
Standards for Expressing
Relationships Among and Within
There is, of course, a body of work — standards and related
research — within the cataloguing and classification
communities that holds some promise for supporting the
relationships described above. The Dublin Core (DC) is perhaps
the most widely used within the digital humanities. IFLA's
Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR)
is becoming increasingly important. Work by organizations
devoted to specific modalities such as the Federation
Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF)1, and the
International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives
(IASA)2, as well as work by such researchers as Martha M.
Yee (moving pictures — see Yee), and Richard Smiraglia
(music — see Smiraglia), etc., are also contributing insights
and theory to this research domain.
Are We There Yet?
We have reviewed results from projects and analyses that
suggest there is still much work to do before the
functionality envisaged above is a reality. Here we describe
one such project that attempts to use FRBR and the DC to
support inter- and intra-modal relationships. The DC does in
fact hold the most promise for representing these relationships
in a way that enables computer supported exploitation for
retrieval, navigation, analysis, and so on.
Ayres describes a project at MusicAustralia to use FRBR and
DC to create a digital repository that explicates the complex
relationships between the works, expressions, manifestations
and items of a collection of music and lyrics found that:
The DC.Relation element can be used to display and support
navigation between items with flat, horizontal relationships [i.e.,
inter-modal relationships like those between some music and its
text]. However, the kinds of relationships MusicAustralia wants
to expose are a combination of vertical [i.e., intra-modal
relationships like those between a score and its recording] and
horizontal relationships, and rely heavily on abstract but well
understood and demonstrable concepts of the Work and the
Expression or version. At this stage, DC does not offer support
exposure of navigational pathways that explicitly acknowledge
both vertical and horizontal relationships. [Bracketed injections
are ours.]
Indeed, a close look at Dublin Core format and type elements
suggests that the level of precision, and subtlety required is
probably not yet available there. For instance the DC type
vocabulary includes such disparate things as 'sound', 'text'
and 'physical object', and examples for 'sound' include
'music playback file format' and 'an audio
compact disc' (DCMI Usage Board).
Next Steps: Exploring Ayres' Open
Because the work of Ayres and her colleagues represents
the most thorough examination of the combination of
FRBR modelling and Dublin Core encoding to build a
comprehensive multimodal repository, we are taking it as the
starting point for our present work. The Ayres study uncovers
a series of unresolved open questions associated with FRBR
and the modelling of real-world multimodal information. In
the Ayres case, the two modes are music (i.e., scores,
recordings, etc.) and text (i.e., lyrics, poems, etc.). These two
modes come together to create what we commonly consider to
be 'songs'. To paraphrase Ayre's first open question:
1. Should we model as the primary work:
(a) the music;
(b) the text; or,
(c) the combination of text and music?
Ayres clearly illustrates that each modelling approach above
clarifies a specific set of relationships between the music
compositions and the texts while at the same time obscuring
other relationships. The examination of this question has
implications beyond the simpler music-text modelling case.
For example, what are the implications when we attempt to
model more complex cases (e.g., the Othello corpus, a
Hollywood musical, etc.) with their exponentially growing
relationships between text (novellas, plays, libretti, etc), music
(i.e., notations, recordings, etc.), choreography (i.e., notations,
video), and so on? Our paper examines this very question. We
also explore the broader ramifications of Ayre's three related
subsidiary open questions:
2. Should all notated and performed expressions of music [or
dance, or text, etc.] be modelled as a single expression
category? 3. Should expressions themselves be further modelled to
include sub-categories for notated and performed
4. Should performed expressions based on particular notated
expressions be modelled as expressions of expressions?
By examining these fundamental questions, we intend to
encourage a long-overdue conversation within the humanities
computing community. Unless our representation schemes do
justice to the multidimensional complexity of cultural content
in all its modes of expression, we will not realize the full
potential of digital humanities repositories.
1. <>
2. <>
Ayres, Marie-Louise. "MusicAustralia: Experiments with
DC.Relation." Presented at DC-ANZ (Dublin Core in Australia
and New Zealand) Conference in Canberra. February 2003.
Accessed 2004-11-17. <
Baez-Yates, R., and B. Ribeiro-Neto. Modern information
retrieval. 1st ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1999.
DCMI Usage Board. DCMI Type Vocabulary. 2004. Accessed
2004-11-27. <
Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR).
UBCIM Publications, 19. Accessed 2004-11-27. <http://>
Futrelle, Joe, and J. Stephen Downie. "Interdisciplinary
Research Issues in Music Information Retrieval: ISMIR
2000-2002." Journal of New Music Research 32.2 (2003):
Hsin-liang, Chen, and Edie M. Rasmussen. "Intellectual access
to images." Library Trends 48.2 (1999): 291-302.
Hunt, Mary Ellen. Review of San Francisco Ballet, "Othello".
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA., 2002. Accessed 2004-11-27. <http://w
Plumbley, M.D., S.A. Abdallah, J.P. Bello, M.E. Davies, G.
Monti, and M.B. Sandler. "Automatic Music Transcription and
Audio Source Separation." Cybernetics & Systems 33.6 (2002):
Smiraglia, Richard. The Nature of "a work": implications for
the organization of knowledge. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press,
Yee, Martha M. "What is a Work?" The Principles and Future
of AACR: Proceedings of the International Conference on the
Principles and Future Development of AACR, Toronto, Ontario,
Canada, October 23-25, 1997. Ed. Jean Weihs. Ottawa:
Canadian Library Association, 1998. 62-104.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None