At this time in history, there’s so much music to describe. There have been so many compositions, so many recordings, and so many performances. How can we sort through it all? There are music databases that the public can contribute to, but how can we make the data consistent enough to be searchable?

The Music Ontology was designed to address this need. As the website explains, “The Music Ontology is an attempt to provide a vocabulary for linking a wide range of music-related information, and to provide a democratic mechanism for doing so. Anybody can publish Music Ontology data and link it with existing data, in order to help create a music-related web of data.”

Ontology is a view of a domain hierarchy, the similarity of relationships and their interaction among concepts. An ontology does not define the vocabulary or the way in which it is to be assigned. It illustrates the concepts and their relationships so that the user more easily understands its coverage. According to Stanford’s Tom Gruber, “In the context of knowledge sharing…the term ontology…mean(s) a specification of a conceptualization. That is, an ontology is a description (like a formal specification of a program) of the concepts and relationships that can exist for an agent or a community of agents.” 

Here are some examples of what the data can express, using the vocabulary of the Music Ontology: 

In this performance was interpreted a particular arrangement of the Trout Quintet by Franz Schubert. 

This work was performed ten times, but only two of these performances were recorded. 

Ten takes of this particular track have been recorded, each with a particular microphone location.

 The vocabulary is actually a set of vocabularies for describing different aspects of musical composition, performance, and recording.

Level 1: aims at providing a vocabulary for simple editorial information (tracks/artists/releases, etc.)

Level 2: aims at providing a vocabulary for expressing the music creation workflow (composition, arrangement, performance, recording, etc.)

Level 3: aims at providing a vocabulary for complex event decomposition, to express, for example, what happened during a particular performance, what is the melody line of a particular work, etc.

With this amount of detail, a lot of volunteer metadata, and some powerful controlled vocabularies, the music-related web of data can soon become a reality. 

Barbara Gilles
Access Innovations Thesaurian