Lynnsey Weissenberger

‘Documenting Irish Traditional Music and Dance Using Linked Data’

Lynnsey Weissenberger
Irish Traditional Music Archive


The Linked Irish Traditional Music (LITMUS) project beginning at the Irish Traditional Music Archive (Dublin, Ireland) seeks to improve searching and access to web-based Irish traditional music, song and dance resources through the development of a linked data ontology, and eventual framework. While tailored to Irish traditional music, it is hoped that this project will provide a working model for other European and non-European traditional musics with similar considerations. The LITMUS project must overcome challenges related to documenting traditional Irish music and dance practice, namely relationships and terminology made more difficult due to the informal nature of oral transmission. This presentation (a paper with example performances using fiddle and sean-nós dance, performed by the author) will describe considerations for documenting and describing Irish traditional music and dance within a linked data ontology. Specifically, the paper will focus on challenges of accurately representing musician-musician relationships, musician-music relationships, music-dance relationships, variants and versions of tunes, and where the variation ends and the act of composition begins.

Linked open data (LOD) has shown great promise in cultural heritage and digital humanities applications, making cultural heritage materials – those found within libraries, museums, and archives – accessible to wider audiences via the semantic web. Pattuelli, Provo, and Thorsen (2015) note the particular challenges of representing digital cultural heritage materials within ontologies, with Stuart (2016) emphasizing how ontology development necessitates “double experts” in both ontology design and subject domains. With the intersection of knowledge between Library and Information Science and traditional music and dance practice being quite small, it is not surprising that we have few options to use for representing these arts practices within information frameworks (for more discussion on this, see Weissenberger 2015). Additionally, musicians and other cultural practitioners do not necessarily agree upon shared aspects of their culture, making Pattuelli’s description of linked data ontologies as “represent[ing] agreed domain semantics,” (2011, p. 314) more of a challenge in the context of Irish traditional music and dance.

Music traditions propagated primarily through oral transmission have additional considerations and present unique representational challenges outside current knowledge organization frameworks, the majority of which are based upon the norms of Western Classical and Western Popular music (Weissenberger, 2015). Among the few music ontologies developed, none adequately express orally-based traditions like Irish traditional music and dance. An ontology based upon the considerations of oral transmission will allow such items to be described and related to one another using term musicians and dancers themselves use; and will reflect more accurate relationships than current music ontologies allow. The future LITMUS ontology will facilitate research in a variety of disciplines–including ethnomusicology/ethnochoreology, digital humanities, and library and information science–as well as enable discovery of new resources for students and performers of Irish music and dance worldwide.


Pattuelli, M. C. (2011). Modeling a domain ontology for cultural heritage resources: A user centered approach. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(2), 314-342.

Pattuelli, M. C., Provo, A., & Thorsen, H. (2015). Ontology building for linked open data: A pragmatic perspective. Journal of Library Metadata, 15(3-4), 265-294.

Stuart, D. (2016). Practical ontologies for information professionals. London, UK: Facet Publishing.

Weissenberger, L. K. (2015). Toward a universal, meta-theoretical framework for music information classification and retrieval. Journal of Documentation, 71(5), 917-937.


Lynnsey Weissenberger holds a Ph.D. in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University, where she directed the Irish Music Ensemble from 2010-2015. A former apprentice to world-renowned Irish fiddler James Kelly, her research brings the understanding of oral traditions and embodied socio-cultural knowledge to the challenges of representing, describing, organizing, and accessing all types of music within knowledge organisation frameworks and information systems. Currently, Lynnsey leads the EU-funded LITMUS (Linked Irish Traditional Music) project at the Irish Traditional Music Archive, where she is developing a linked data ontology for Irish traditional music and dance.