Pávai István honlapja

Complex Folklore Database Project (István Pávai – András Mórocz)

Technical challenges and developments in 21st century folk music archiving, Budapest, 2008. 06. 11–12.

(in Hungarian)


István Pávai's Introduction

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Musicology, Budapest, Táncsics Mihály utca 7.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Before passing the word to my fellow computer scientist, András Mórocz, I would like to explain to you how, as an ethnomusicologist, I reached the conclusion that the Complex Folklore Database, currently used in the Institute for Musicology and the Hungarian Heritage House is indispensable in the 21st century research work.

I did my university studies in Romania at the Music Academy in Cluj. This way, I had the chance to get acquainted with both the Romanian and Hungarian ethnomusicological trends and the two different folklore record systems — both paper-based, back then. Some of my professors were interested in the potential lying in using computers for research and conducted analyses of chorals and fugues by Bach with the aid of computers based on punched card technology. Later on, I worked at a radio station as musical editor. Here we were already using PCs with the aim of creating a complex and uniform database through which we could process the various literary and musical genres.

From the mid 1990s I continued using my knowledge on databases at the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest. We developed small databases for the separate collections (e.g. photos, films, manuscripts, maps, folk music, etc.). This work was of special benefit, as I could experience what kind of special needs the various schools of methodology existing in folklore research have. In addition, I got involved in the ongoing computer-based registration process at the Institute for Musicology. Here as well several smaller databases were developed, in order to keep record of the various musical systems ( such as the Bartók system, Kodály system, tune type system, etc.).

The experience I gained from these smaller databases was that they provided only limited insight into a specific fragment of a collection. My assumption was that the user may need access to any kind of data, not only those defined by the actual research trends. Thus, I reached the conclusion that the development of a complex database system was needed; one that could tackle folklore events as a whole while being flexible enough to prove helpful while used for various research projects. Both the Hungarian Heritage House and the Institute for Musicology played a immense role in the creation of this system, as both institutions were aware of its significance. We found the apt partner for the software development in Comm Laude, a Hungarian software design company.

Folklore collection lies at the very core of our database. By definition, this means the totality of records made in one particular location and time about a person or group, regardless of the medium used for the recording. This way, complex field research solutions can be examined, such as cases when a group of researchers carried out a collection through sound recording, photo and film shooting, drawings, etc. The folklore information recorded on various media can be split into segments and analysed in relationship with each other on parallel timelines, just like the score of a polyphonic musical composition.

The media segments can be tunes, folklore texts, scenes of folk customs, dance processes, and can be subordinated to one another. For instance, a dance cycle may be composed of several dances, which in turn, can be split into several dance motifs or, from a musical perspective, into several accompanying tunes. We can specify the attributes of the segments by completing the data sheets. This way, folklore events can be regarded in syncretic unity, and at the same time, if someone is interested only in tunes, they have the option of searching exclusively among the tunes.

The segment attributes can be chosen from a polyhierarchic thesaurus system. This system can be freely edited and has no fixed, unchangeable elements. It is exactly this solution that tackles such cases as the several co-existing tune systematization methods within Hungarian ethnomusicology. Upon the paper based publication of the Hungarian Folk Music Collection, it had to be decided which exact tune systematization method should be used. In the database a particular tune can be classified under the different tune systems included in the thesaurus. This parallel classification enables us for instance, to handle multilingual place-names or to incorporate folklore analysis and systematization aspects that differ from country to country without the pressure to handle the folklore of various peoples through common criteria.

The diverse folklore material of different peoples, the research traditions and trends differing from country to country are impossible to be made uniform. Our database however, is able to parallelly represent them. It is evident how it can become a powerful tool in interethnic research and in the mutual understanding of the various co-existing methodologies.

Beyond its main purpose to serve and facilitate scientific research, we thought equally important that our database could also be used by the average enquirer and folklore lover. For this reason we included the simplified search option as well.

Now I would like to ask András to present in practice from the point of view of informatics, the main features and functions of the database.

Dr. István Pávai PhD
ethnomusicologist