Tunes & Tales. Modeling Oral Transmission (Meertens Institute, Fryske Akademy, Universities of Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Twente & Utrecht)

Oral transmission is a fascinating aspect of the broader phenomenon of cultural transmission. In oral culture, artefacts such as songs and stories are passed on to next generations without written or technical reproduction media, just by voice and ear. Oral transmission implies alteration and variation to a considerable extent. Yet after several generations of oral transmission the artefacts are still ‘the same’ (in oral terms), or at least recognizable variants (from a literate point of view). How can this be? Are there convergent forces? How can we model the process of oral transmission?

In the project Tunes & Tales we will create such models, based on the vast oral corpora of Dutch folksongs and Dutch and Frisian folktales of the Meertens Institute. We will consider two categories: tunes (music) and tales (text). Firstly, we will formalize tunes and tales as layered sequences of motifs, this will result in prototype systems for the automatic recognition of motifs in tunes and tales. Formalization is an important first step that will enable the analysis of large amounts of available data for creating models of the mechanism of oral transmission. On top of that, automatic recognition of motifs can be used for automatic classification of the corpora – a much needed practical application for making the Meertens collections further accessible for ethnomusicological and ethnological research.

Based on the automated analysis of motif sequences, a generative model that simulates the oral transmission including the inherent variation will be created. The models will be tested on the oral material of the Meertens Institute in cooperation with domain experts. This will contribute to understanding the mechanism of oral transmission as described above.

A software engineer will robustly implement successful models developed during the project. The resulting tools will be integrated in the Dutch Song and Folktale Databases of the Meertens Institute and made available to other researchers. Thus the project will have both a theoretical and a practical impact on the research of oral culture. By modeling cultural artefacts and processes, this project contributes to the broad challenges facing computational humanities.

People involved

Project leaders:
Theo Meder, Meertens Institute
Louis Grijp, Utrecht University and Meertens Insitute

Postdoctoral researcher:
Peter van Kranenburg, Meertens Institute and e-Humanities group

Researcher PhD:
Berit Janssen, Meertens Institute and e-Humanities Group
Folgert Karsdorp, Meertens Institute and e-Humanities Group

The most recent project description you will find following this link:

Website of cooperating projects: