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Essen Associative Code

The Essen Associative Code (EsAC) is probably the oldest, and certainly the longest-surviving, code for music in active use. Partly because of its longevity, this code forms the basis of hundreds of thousands of analogue (typescript) encodings in European archives. Only a small portion of this material is represented in the computer applications described below.

Origins and History to 1982

The term "EsAC" only properly applies to materials encoded from 1982 onward, but the antecedents of the code can be traced back 200 years. The distinction of EsAC was that it was adapted to desktop computers running DOS. No one country or region owns the idea of encoding folksongs, but the typewriter-friendly code that underlies EsAC was in widespread use in various areas of Central and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. Ethnomusicological studies by Ivo Suppan (1966) and others locate the original mandate for folksong transcription to the Austrian emperor Joseph II, who launched an effort to map the scope of “Hapsburg culture” in all its manifestations. (The material was transcribed by hand, but scholars have demonstrated that transcriptions were sometimes "regularized" to conform to Austrian models.)

Earlier (1770) Johann Gottfried von Herder had promoted the concept of the Volkslied (folksong), which was later much romanticized. Collections assembled under this more intellectual impetus might consist entirely of text or combine other of music with text, but the emphasis remained on versification, poetic meters, and aesthetic parallels between music and poetic content. In 1811 the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde appealed for the contribution of songs from all parts of the monarchy. The surviving fruits of those collections are found predominantly in regional libraries.

Through much of mid-to-late nineteenth century the collection of folksongs was vigorously pursued, not only in Austro-Hungary but in many neighboring states ((Poland, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bohemia, the Czech lands, and most of Germany). Much attention was given in the early twentieth century to publication and codification. Inevitably these efforts raised many new questions: (1) Did folksongs with the same title have the same music? (2) Was the same text set to more than one tune? (3) Were multiple text with different meanings set to the same music? With infinite patience the transcription of melodies together with basic information about title, place of origin, meter, and so forth was noted. These descriptions of single songs came to fill countless file drawers.

The code that became EsAC is pervasive in typescript folksong collections across the whole of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia) and its neighbors. Poland may claim the largest share outside the former Empire; a photostatic copy of typescript cards was published in 1966 (Oskar Kolberg: Dzieła uszystkie). Today the entire collection of Kolberg’s writings and transcriptions is indexed (with some volumes also available for download) at the website of the Oskar Kolberg Institute] in Poznań (Poland). [Kolberg transcribed 12,000 Polish folksongs in the course of developing his monumental enthnographic studies.

Curiosity about and respect for folksongs did not confine itself to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Large collections of folksong transcriptions and arrangements were soon being made in various provinces of Germany. Because it prompted nostalgia for the past, the unification of Germany (1871) may have stimulated increased interest in local traditions. In its sweep across Europe up to the First World War, similar effects were evident all over. Some starting points for the exploration of today's online artifacts of European folk music are these:

  • DISMARC: Music (audio) portal within Europeana DISMARC
  • Europeana: Portal for European Culture Europeana

Motivations for Folksong Analysis

The most potent question that folksong researchers began to ask as they organized this growing body of material was: How does the process of "morphing" (change by slow degrees) occur? Can the pathways of change be predicted? Can styles of adaptation be linked to certain regions? These open-ended questions proved difficult to answer. They continue to be asked today. Stabilizing forces are equally important. Many folksong researchers consider lyrics to be a stabilizing influence on meter and phrase structure, if not directly on pitch or finite elements of rhythm. EsAC builds on this idea by encoding phrase by phrase according to lyrics. Then analysis routines seek to determine whether metric xx. ==

The Work of the Essen Hochschule für Musik

The adaptation of the code was carried out by Helmut Schaffrath, beginning in 1982. The EsAC repertory corresponds in large measure to the German Volkslied dataset used in Wolfram Steinbeck's dissertation, Struktur und Ähnlichkeit. Methoden automatisierter Melodienanalyse (1982), which explored encoded musical content in mainframe programs. The data is separately described in Steinbeck's Die Liederbank Kiel (1976). Schaffrath's personal interest was in the traditional music of Southeast and East Asia.

Teaching at the Hochschule für Musik in Essen (a center for the collection and publication of German folksongs in c. 1900), Schaffrath viewed the advent of the personal computer as an invitation to enable researchers to conduct their work systematically. This required the adaptation of the data to the desktop computers, where, it was hoped, printing and sound output could be generated from the song encodings. He and his students (mainly Barbara Jesser and Ulrike Franzke) created a set of analysis tools for the monophonic code that collectively bore the title MAPPET (Music Analysis Software Package).

Numerous projects based on EsAC, under the auspices of the International Council for Traditional Music, collapsed after Schaffrath's unexpected death in 1994. Data in EsAC has been translated to many other music formats, often for the purpose of testing music software. Schaffrath's data and software, as described here, were transferred to Ewa Dahlig-Turek, now professor of musicology in the University of Poznan (PL).

Printed Matter

Schaffrath, Helmut (ed). Computer in der Musik. UÜeber den Einsatz in Wissenschaft, Komposition, und Pädegogik. Stuttgart, 1991.

Schaffrath, Helmut, and Ewa Dahlig,

Suppan, Wolfgang. Volkslied: Seine Sammlung und Erforschung. Stuttgart, 1966.

Suppan, Wolfgang (ed.). Deutsche Volkslieder mit ihren Melodien: Balladen, 2 vols. Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1967, 1976.

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