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George Vlahakis
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Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2003

Mellon Foundation grant helps create digital video archive of world music

A new world of music from around the globe will soon be available to students and scholars. A research team from Indiana University and the University of Michigan has received an $875,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create an online digital archive of video recordings and a searchable database for research and teaching.

The grant has been supplemented by additional support from both universities bringing the total to $1.4 million. The Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis (EVIA) Digital Archive project will focus on video recordings made by ethnomusicologists, who are scholars who study music for the purpose of cultural analysis.

For the past 25 years, scholars of ethnomusicology have increasingly used video as a means of capturing and preserving their field research. Driven by a belief that music is more than sound alone, ethnomusicologists' use of video captures the multitude of cultural practices -- including costumes, ritual practices and dance -- that are integral to fully understanding musical expression.

A sense of urgency surrounds the preservation of these videos as musical performance traditions from around the world are continually altered, threatened and destroyed by war and the increasing effects of globalization. This sense of urgency extends to the videotapes themselves, which have a notoriously poor archival life.

The EVIA Digital Archive currently is the only project of its kind that will collect, copy, annotate and preserve ethnomusicological video materials on the Web for use by educators, researchers and musicians on a global scale. The Smithsonian Institution is undertaking a similar project.

IU and the University of Michigan are uniquely positioned to lead the project. Both institutions are charter members of Internet2 -- an advanced network that can deliver high-quality digital video to computers around the world. Both institutions also are home to resources such as the IU Archives of Traditional Music, the largest university-based ethnographic sound and video archive in the United States, and the University of Michigan Media Union, which will provide special equipment needed to facilitate the development of the digital archive.

Technical development at IU will be led by IU's University Information Technology Services and the Digital Library Program. The project will benefit from IU's prior experience in multimedia digital library development with the Variations music library system.

Ruth M. Stone, director of the IU Ethnomusicology Institute, and Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, are co-principal investigators of the project and will work in conjunction with a team of professors, digital technologists, video experts, intellectual property rights specialists and graduate assistants from both universities in the development of the archive.

Although preservation of irreplaceable video recordings is the key issue driving the digital archive, an ultimate goal of the project is to return the recordings to the cultures where they were originally recorded, a task which has often proved difficult with physical videotapes.

"The eventual goal will be to repatriate these materials back to countries where they were collected," Stone said. "In those countries where there is war, such as Liberia where I have done my work, if you have an electronic archive, it can't be destroyed, as opposed to taking taped copies back and leaving them there."

The far-reaching scope of the EVIA project will provide a model for future projects. The unique and irreplaceable video materials placed in the digital archive ultimately will be made available to a global network of people, not only to those able to physically travel to archival institutions, as has been the case in the past. For educational institutions, researchers, cultures and threatened musical traditions, the EVIA Digital Archive will have truly global implications.

For more information about the Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis Digital Archive, go to http://www.indiana.edu/~eviada.