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Friday, April 08, 2005

The Rambler's Webguide to National Music Information Centres 

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A current Work project calls for me to spend a lot of time investigating the world's Music Information Centres. The International Association of Music Information Centres lists 42 national centres among its members. MICs are, for anyone involved in contemporary music, things of immeasurable value. What they do differs from country to country, but as a general minimal guide they are the central information resource for all new music produced by that country's composers. They usually provide biographical information, hold archives of scores and manuscripts, and most of them put up hugely important online catalogues of holdings and composer workslists. Some go still further – the BMIC in London, for example, includes a publishing wing ('New Voices') set up in 1999 to publish and promote works by Britain's best young composers. MICs are fantastic things, and a good first port of call for any new music research. With that in mind then, I present here a short guide to the web resources provided by the IAMIC's 42 members.

[All pages viewed with Windows 2000, Firefox and a short attention span.]

Australian Music Centre

"The leading provider of information, publications and scores relating to Australian music" according to the front page. Nice, spelling-it-out-clearly navigation. Includes info (photo, biography, list of works and recordings held) on almost 400 composers. Offers a range of services for composers (not just outside researchers), including promotion and training. Published a survey in 2004 of all Australia's further and higher education music courses. Much more. This is a serious resource. Only gripe is that there isn't a news section, although there are free email newsletters available to keep on top of forthcoming performances of Australian music.

MICA – Music Information Centre Austria

Only in German – I couldn't see an English version page. Really slow to load, but then, I have a really flaky net connection, so I wouldn't read too much into that. Includes news (although not an archive, pity); database of composers (which includes biog and workslist, each work has its own page of info); current calendar of performances; database of performers, bands and ensembles (with links for individual band members); a forum for occasional articles on music in Austria.

There are two MICs for Belgium. The Flanders Music Centre (also in Dutch) supports the Flemish professional music sector. CeBeDem, the Belgian Centre for Music Documentation, exists "in order to stimulate the promotion and performance of the works of Belgian contemporary composers of serious music." The FMC includes a handy news page for all items relating to Belgian music (with handy RSS feed!), and a comprehensive-looking directory of Belgian composers, performers, institutions, festivals, libraries, etc etc. And the whole lot is available in Dutch, French and English. Great. The site does, however, have that really annoying design bug that carries its URL into the address bar of every site you subsequently visit. (Some glitchy frames hangover maybe?)

CeBeDem are more like the traditional promote/archive MIC. Experience tells me that they're efficient promoters of Belgian music – I'm for ever coming across their newsletter publications. They undertake a lot of publishing and reproduction themselves (their catalogues are here), and their website includes biography and list of works held for more Belgian composers than you ever thought possible. (Although I had to click quite a few links before I found a biography that wasn't "in writing".)

CDMC-Brasil: Centro de Documentação de Música Contemporânea.

All Portuguese, no English version. Includes directory of composers, but no workslists, only short biogs and contact info. Most of the other pages for performers, ensembles, festivals etc. were in progress. Not great.

Canadian Music Centre (in English and French, duh)

Includes most of the usual info on composers (biography, lists of scores and recordings held by the Centre), but comes with the huge added bonus of collecting together a few representative works on a separate page for each composer, and throws in pdf score samples and MP3 recording samples. Oh, and program notes too. Nice! There are also news pages (archived back to 2003, and a really great cross-net survey of music news), an online radio channel featuring "Canadian Composers Portrait documentaries, historical perspectives on Canadian music in the Canadian Currents series, full-length featured albums and much more", an event calendar, and a CD store. Exemplary.

Croatia. Well, sadly this is what's left of the Croatian MIC's presence online. Shame.

Czech Music Information Centre.

Czech and English – thankfully! According to their blurb, they
collect documentation on Czech contemporary music composers and events, run archives of sheet music and recordings, arrange contacts and provide information for foreigners interested in Czech music, organize meetings, conferences, talks, concerts, publish regular periodicals.
They include the usual directories of pages for composers, performers, ensembles, festivals etc. The pages themselves are a mix of internal and external pages – most composers get an internal page though, including biography, selected compositions and contact details. They also publish the quarterly, English language magazine Czech Music. Full contents pages are archived online, as are some of the articles themselves. No online news section though.

Danish Arts Agency, Music Centre

The Danish MIC operates as a section of the larger Danish Arts Agency. Unfortunately, the online resources they seem to provide are very slim indeed. Users are directed towards the Danish Arts Guide, "Your portal to Danish culture and the arts in Denmark and Abroad", but under the heading 'individual composers/musicians' this could only give me external links three composer sites, the Carl Nielsen Edition, the Carl Nielsen museum, and a database of Hans Christian Lumbye's dances for piano. Not good. If you do want info on contemporary Danish music, you'd be better advised to start with Edition Wilhelm Hansen, since they publish most Danish composers.

Eesti Muusika Infokeskus (the Estonian MIC). They've got a new homepage 'coming soon'. So, naturally, they've pulled the old one down. Shame again.

Finnish Music Information Centre

An old friend. For some reason I've spent a lot of time in the past working on Finnish composers and their music, and the FiMIC has long been a pleasure to use. Unlike most of the centres, they make a first-level division into Contemporary, Folk and World, Popular, and Jazz. We can all argue until the cows come home about the efficacy of such divisions, but when the cows go out again we all use them, and we all know what they mean, so they'll do. Per capita, the contemporary music scene in Finland must be about the strongest in the world, and the composer listings on FiMIC are a credit to this. They include lots and lots of streaming audio samples, top-notch workslists, biographies, great photos (albeit with squashed-up thumbnails, a minor design glitch) that are available to order free for promotional use, and the publications page includes what I believe are full-length book texts by Kimmo Korhonen. Oh, and the news archive is complete right back to Jan 2000. This is simply one of the best new music sites on the web.

Centre de Documentation de la Musique Contemporaine

Available in French only, although there are options for Flash, and HTML ('ancien site', amusingly enough). Both are the stuff of nightmares, design-wise, and the Flash option has already opened up two separate pop-ups. Jeez. And then you need to register to access the online catalogue. I give up here, and as a rule I give pot-luck Flash-animated navigation systems short shrift too, so I test out the ancien regime site. Well, after a few more clicks and a disclaimer page I get to a list of composers, annotated seemingly at random, and representing nothing like a picture of French contemporary music; rather, a hotpotch collection of composers from all over the world. Sorry chaps, this is a mess, and it's coming from one of the international powerhouses of 20th-century music. At least the calendar of events (covering festivals, concerts, conferences and news) is specifically French and therefore does what is expected.

The Georgian Music Information Centre doesn't have a website.

Its German equivalent does, however.

Conveniently available in English too. The site is centred around five databases, covering Music Organizations and Institutions; Contemporary Composers; Courses, Conferences and Workshops; Literature on Musical Life and Musikforum Online. There's a news page, although this doesn't look to have been updated since February 2003 (tut tut).

The Contemporary Composers database mostly comprises external links to composer sites, and includes very little in-house content. As the site admits, having a website is necessary for a composer to be included in the database, so unfortunately the names here don't represent a complete picture of German musical life. That's a shame; usually it is the MIC that takes on the role of creating pages for all the individuals under their purview.

The Musical Life in Germany looks promising at first, until you realise that half the links into the next subsection are duds. When you find one that isn't, you're taken through to a minimally-annotated page of external links. Once again, this is all just a database front-end with no in-house content. Still, if it's a directory of German musical institutions you're after, this is what you want (blank pages notwithstanding).

Overall, the German MIC site does what it says on the tin – it's an extensive index of websites to do with German musical life. But it's almost nothing more than that. It's better than the French site (at least all this works as it should, looks good, and isn't confusingly stuffed with foreign composers), but I expected more.

Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt

This is a second German MIC, although not one with national aspirations. Rather, the IMD is the library and archive that has grown around the famous International Summer Schools held in Darmstadt since 1945. The library now holds more than 30,000 scores, but there is no online catalogue. Rather, the site is simply a contact page for the Institute and the Summer School.

Greek Music Information Centre

This is the English-language site, which is apparently under construction, and for which most of the links are 'for demonstration' only. This means that there's not really very much there (certainly nothing under the 'composers' heading). I would tell if the Greek version was any better, but, ahem, well, you know… Actually, it looks to be a directory of external links for composers, performers and so on. So if it's not all Greek to you, it may well be quite handy. There is some news (misleadingly headed 'April 2003', but it's of international, rather than national perspective).

Budapest Music Centre

I confess that it's been a while since I last checked in here. A couple of years ago the whole site was been made over, and the available online content was patchy to say the least. That has all changed, however. Databases of classical and jazz musicians are held here. Most names that I searched for had a short biography (pretty well translated from Hungarian – big thumbs up), discography and workslists. Individual works and recordings had their own pages including all the information you might want. A lot of the pieces came with 1minute MP3 samples. Goody! And the form for searching the composition database testifies to some impressively thorough tagging.

A downside is the news, which is pretty sketchy, and doesn't have an obvious archive anywhere. But otherwise, this is another great site.

Iceland Music Information Centre

Here's another superbly thought-out resource. Once again, a very detailed search form testifies to the care that has gone into putting this site together. And a really nice touch is that all search results (drilling down to just individual works) are downloadable as separate Word, Excel or HTML files. That's really neat.

The site also includes news on the front page and one or two other bits and bobs, but the most impressive thing is easily the composition database.

Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland

CMC Ireland is another good site, which carries the usual extensive workslist documentation you can expect from the better MIC sites, with individual works having a page to themselves with full publication and scoring information. Like all the better sites it keeps itself comfortably up to date too, and has plenty of news on the front page. What I like most about the CMC Ireland site though is the amount of related reading that has been brought into it. Most composers listed have a link from their biography pages to a collection of articles and interviews (some of these are posted as videos). In many cases this amounts to a rare clump of secondary source bibliography, just waiting to be read. (When I wrote an article on Ian Wilson for Tempo a couple of years back this kind of thing was essential background.) There's a whole bunch of other stuff too – the library, which holds a lot of unpublished scores manuscripts is searchable online, and there's a useful calendar of events involving Irish composers and works. OK, so there's nothing here about Irish non-classical music, but U2 hardly need any more promotion, do they?

Israel Music Institute

Outdated design, slow loading, frames, etc. The composer's gallery operates through pop-ups and and an often ludicrous frame design (I mean, really), and the amount of information can be very thin indeed (although some composers do better than others). The most useful thing here is probably the CD catalogue (all of which are available for order), and the occasional articles that have been posted to the archive. Not good at all.

Archivi della Musica Italiana Contemporanea

Mostly available in both Italian and English, although the most useful feature, the database of Italian composers is only available in Italian. Fair 'nuff, but you have to be on your guard, since the first search page is actually for Italian compositions, despite its title. Once you get in, however, the results are full and useful, and include scoring , first performance details and editions. There's a decent amount of news on the front page, and one or two other bits and bobs. Overall, not a bad site; but not a perfect one either.

According to the IAMIC page, the Documentation Center of Modern Japanese Music (Nippon Kindai Ongakukan) doesn't have a webpage. This seems crazy, but Google suggests that it's true. Mad.

Latvian Music Information Centre

The LMIC has one of those silly Flash splash pages, but I'll let them off that because the inside of the site is much more sensible, and they're sweet enough to include a directory of Latvian musicologists too. The usual combination of news (sparse), events calendar (less sparse) and composers/works catalogue (no bells and whistles, but pretty thorough) follows. More unusual are the lists of Latvian music first performances for 2003 and 2004 found under 'Publications'. Good show.

Lithuanian Music Information and Publishing Centre

Just down the Baltic coast, the Lithuanian MIC is another great little resource. Their archives of festivals and conferences (including full programmes dating back to 1997) is mouthwatering from a researcher's point of view, and I'm not particularly interested in Lithuanian musical life. The composer biogs and workslists are the standard high quality thing we've seen plenty of already – but, like too few of their co-institutions, the LMIC have also included extensive score samples (pdf) and sound samples from available recordings (MP3). Stunningly, I think there may in fact be a score/sound sample for every work/recording listed. I didn't find any without in any case. I've certainly found the place to start getting an interest in Lithuanian music!

Luxembourg Music Information Centre

Remembering that Luxembourg is a tiny country of fewer than half a million people, its MIC website puts several of the larger countries' to shame. Inevitably the databases involved are smaller than some other countries, allowing for simpler navigation to brief composer biographies. Works are reached through a separate search form. An archive of Society for Contemporary Music activities dating back to 1998 is included, as well as catalogues of documentation and recordings available.

Donemus

Available in Dutch and English. Donemus is halfway between MIC and out-and-out publishing house, and on the site the two roles blur somewhat. They publish works by some 500 Dutch or Dutch-associated composers, and brochures (mostly only downloadable as Word docs or pdfs, rather than viewable as html pages) are available for all of these. There is a searchable catalogue of the 10,000 Dutch works they hold (some of which include pdf score samples); a second catalogue covers CDs. Streaming MP3 samples are provided for all recorded works. Similarly to CeBeDeM, Donemus do a very effective job at promoting the music of Dutch composers (almost all of whom they themselves publish). Trackings is their regular journal/newsletter on Dutch music, and many articles from this are available online through individual composer pages.

It's not immediately clear from the Donemus homepage what the site actually contains, but this is definitely one that rewards further digging.

Gaudeamus Foundation

What is about the Low Countries, doing things in duplicate? Like Belgium, there are two entries for the Netherlands on the IAMIC's list of members. However, Gaudeamus is not really a Music Information Centre, rather an organiser and promoter of contemporary music. And not just within the Netherlands either – the Gaudeamus remit is international. Among the most important events they are involved with are the annual International Gaudeamus Music Week and the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition. They also include a searchable library catalogue of works held. However, a really unfriendly frame design that doesn't allow for direct linking to pages, or clicking back or forward in your browser (yuck!), wins no brownie points.

SOUNZ

SOUNZ, the New Zealand MIC, ticks all the right boxes. Nice design (although you need to cheat the search a little with empty fields to pull up a full list of composers included. Most composers have a short biography, and all have a complete list of works, displayed in a list with most of the pertinent information. There are pages of educational resources, composer opportunities, archived news, forthcoming events, and recordings, all of which are nicely hyperlinked back to the central composer database. I couldn't find any sound or score samples though, unfortunately. However, this is another really good MIC site.

Music Information Centre Norway

Available in English and Norwegian. Yet another slick operation, the Norwegian MIC includes explicit category divisions into Folk, Jazz, Classical and Pop similar to the Finnish Centre above. However, the front page news is compiled without such divisions, so Knut Knystedt, a-ha, Jaga Jazzist, Turbonegro and Mayhem all happily rub shoulders. Nice. And if you drill down into the individual genre sections, there's even more news for you. You can reach all the composer and performer listings through the directory; and via Musikonline store you can listen to sound samples of all recorded works. Scores held by the Centre are databased and catalogued, although I'm not certain how up to date these records are. Searching Asbjorn Schaathun's works, for example, I didn't see anything composed later than 2001.

Polish Music Information Centre

In Polish, with sections available in English. The Polish front page includes extensive news (currently dominated by musical events in memory of Pope John Paul II), but none of this is available in English. The database of Polish composers has some curious operational quirks that need to be learnt, rather than intuitively understood, but inside is an extensive catalogue of Polish composers and their music. Scoring and timing information is provided for each work included – not as much as other centres include, but it's something at least. One disadvantage of the database is that it is only partly available in English, so some linguistic knowledge or informed guesswork is required.

As for institutions, full contact details (real and virtual) are provided. The composer and performer sections, as reached through the sidebar menu, are either broken, in progress, or very incomplete. Under Composers > P, only one name came up, and it wasn't Penderecki. I had to try quite a few letters before I could find any performers at all. The musicologists section is similarly thin. If you're looking for a complete picture of Polish musical life, this could be very misleading.

Miso Music Portugal

I'd love to say nice things about the Portuguese Music Information Centre, but every link I clicked on required username and password access, so I can't. Sorry about that.

There is a second site listed by the IAMIC under Portugal, the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, but this is more of concert listing and performance news site than a conventional MIC.

SOKOJ, the Music Information Center of Serbia and Montenegro does not have website of its own, but details of its activities may be found through the IAMIC's own pages.

Music Centre Slovakia

Available in English as well as Slovak. Good-o. Includes clearly organised directory of composers, all with complete workslists and bullet-point biographies. Also, similar information for Slovak performers, Slovak jazz musicians and Slovak Blues musicians. There is also a very detailed calendar of forthcoming events.

The Music Communication Centre of Southern Africa is another MIC without a webpage.

Centro para la Difusión de la Música Contemporánea

No English translation for this one, so I'm flying somewhat blind here. I couldn't actually find any information on composers within the site; the only link under 'Databases' takes you out of the CDMYD itself to a fairly basic directory of musicians and institutions, giving contact details for each. But no composers or their works unless I'm seriously misreading. Beyond this, most of the remaining links on the CDMYD take you to single page summaries of the Centre's activities, but with very little real data to work with. I get the feeling this site is mostly a front of house thing encouraging you to visit in person.

Swedish Music Information Centre

So far the Nordic countries have scored highly on this survey, and the last of these, Sweden, doesn't let the side down. Like Norway and Finland in particular, they make a top-level division into contemporary/classical, jazz, pop/rock, and light music. The divisions are more solid than on the Norwegian site however, so there is little apparent intermingling of information between the divisions. I wonder how much the Norwegian site is a reflection of a similarly eclectic musical scene?

So, we have the usual databases of composers, performers, works, etc. Sadly composer biogs aren't linked to composer workslists (which strikes me as a serious flaw), so you need to know the name of a piece, or at least its instrumentation if you want to look it up. This discouragement to idle browsing and crosslinking between composers and their works seems to run counter to the promotional aspect of what MICs aim towards. What we get with the Swedish centre is lots of information (good), but presented in a manner that allows no sense of context within Swedish music as a whole (bad).

Fondation SUISA pour la musique

Quirky, fun things: includes Top 20 charts, including ringtones, Alpine songs, and yodelling (Franz Stadelmann is number one in the yodelling charts)
Unhelpful things: password authentication needed to get into the documentation pages. Only in French.
Everything else: Well, there are some useful things here, like news, but no directories or databases, and a lot of reflexive information about SUISA itself.

British Music Information Centre

The centrepiece of the BMIC's site is its searchable collection of 30,000 scores and 15,000 recordings, all held at its premises in London. These have been well tagged in the database, making searching by any number of criteria possible (including gender of composer, which is unusual). Information for the composers themselves is strictly limited, although all composers are listed with their external personal and publisher webpages wherever available. Another major aspect of the BMIC's activities is the publishing and promotion of young British composers through the New Voices and Contemporary Voices schemes. Composers under these schemes get their own page within the BMIC site with photo, biography and workslist.

Scottish Music Centre

In that oh-so-straightforward way that we Brits do, the BMIC, despite its name, is joined by two other Centres, for Scotland and Wales (below). The SMC is a nice site actually, and for Scottish music covers a lot of ground that isn't dealt with by the mainly archive-based BMIC site. They have full pages with complete workslists for most Scottish composers, although there are some surprising omissions. I can appreciate that Peter Maxwell Davies is strictly speaking not Scottish, but what about James Dillon? Or James MacMillan? This would look like a fairly selective picture of Scottish music that is being painted here. A bit of digging around reveals that the SMC runs a membership scheme for composers, in return for which you get a profile page on the site (amongst many other things). Ah. That explains why some of the established big guns don't have profiles here then. You can still find details of their works if you probe through the directory, however (and Max does qualify for this, incidentally). The SMC does some good work elsewhere on the site, not least of which is their education section, which should be a more common feature of MIC pages than it is.

Welsh Music Information Centre

Proudly residing in the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, the WMIC is primarily an archive of scores and recordings by Welsh musicians. This archive is thoroughly catalogued online, although be warned that it doesn't yet represent a full survey of Welsh music: the workslists for each composer are distinctly short of complete. Still, a useful resource and, with the amount of money being poured into the arts in Wales these days, one that is certain to expand.

American Music Center

Last, but hardly least, the AMC, and its associated magazine site NewMusicBox. Much as you would expect, these two hubs reach out to a vast sprawl of information and resources, much more than I intend to mention here. The scores library sensibly keeps the bells and whistles to a minimum; but although its very big, it's hardly a complete library of American music (but what could hope to be?). The grooviest resource is probably the NewMusicJukebox, an "online library and listening room that provides immediate access to scores, streaming audio, and vital information about music by American composers". And if you've read this far, here is where I recommend spending the rest of your day.


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