Course: Digital Environments of Indigenous Song

Times: 1:30 - 5pm

Dates: Thursday and Friday, 5 - 6 December 2019

Instructors: Associate Professor Sally Treloyn, Dr Reuben Brown and Jared Kuvent from The University of Melbourne. and John Divilli from Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation

Registration: Please register here for Summer School 2019

Inquiries: or 


Recordings and associated metadata in digital forms increasingly play a role in the revitalisation and recovery of Indigenous song traditions, and of other linguistic knowledges and practices, in states of endangerment. Numerous case studies outline the revival or ‘waking up’ of dance-songs, songs and sometimes genres, with the assistance of legacy recordings (Barwick & Marett 2003, Turpin 2018, Treloyn, Martin & Charles 2019). In 2019 access to digital collections of legacy and new song and language recordings within musician-communities is an important consideration in revitalisation efforts.

For Indigenous singers and members of song communities, however, a lack of access to digital tools, formats and the absence of relevant metadata aligned with recordings, can give rise to frustration and apprehension when the knowledge-record in a digital file re-enters the social world of the source community (e.g., Treloyn & Dowding 2017). This can affect the usability of the recordings.

Addressing this, as researchers working with audio-visual collections and documents in and/or with communities, the presenters deploy a range of techniques and tools in order to respond effectively to community requests for playback and access. These include audio-editing software to segment files; Optical Character Recognition technology to convert scanned images to text; spreadsheets and workbooks to manage and aggregate dispersed metadata on a digital item from a range of sources; and audio content management systems to search, play back, and export requested recordings. However, investigating and tracing songs across dispersed collections and multiple formats, and managing the aggregated collection, remains a time consuming, complicated and sometimes frustrating activity.

This course will present a toolkit for preparing archival and new recordings and associated documents for discovery, management and use in Indigenous song and speaker communities that has been developed in the course of the ARC projects ‘Hearing histories of the western Pilbara: an interdisciplinary study of Indigenous songs composed in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in the twentieth century and technologies to sustain them into the future (DP150100094)’; and ‘Singing the Future: assessing the effectiveness of repatriation as a strategy to sustain the vitality of indigenous song (FT150100141)’.

This course will exemplify community collaboration and engagement in research methods. It will cover community queries around song collections, granulating audio-visual files, wrangling and mustering song/language metadata using a new FileMaker Pro song database tool (released in 2019), and outputting recordings and related metadata to community access and curation platforms. At the end , participants will have gained knowledge of new and existing workflows for managing their collections that optimise discovery of audio-visual materials, link metadata to recordings and, time permitting, output datasets to other CMSes used by archives and in community.

Assumed and Background knowledge

The course is intended for researchers working with audio-visual collections with an orientation towards community access and use, and in particular collections including song or sung/spoken poetry. It is of use to researchers preparing these audio-visual collections and metadata for access and/or responding to community requests for access, in archive, desktop and field settings. The course assumes participants have some knowledge of one or more audiovisual collections and associated metadata, and the challenges inherent in these processes, but no specialist knowledge of musicology or song.


Participants are invited to bring  and work on a sample of data from their own collections. In preparation for the course please contact the workshop leaders Sally Treloyn and/or Reuben Brown by 1 November 2019 to provide a brief summary of the following:

  • Scope and format of collection(s) and metadata that you wish to address in the workshop. 
  • Existing tools that you use as part of your workflow (i.e. Elan, Soundstudio, Audacity, Amadeus Pro, Excel, A Better Finder Rename, etc.)
  • Existing community access and curation platforms in the community in which you work. 

Please bring  your laptop with a trial or licensed version of FileMaker Pro installed. We also recommend installing the latest version of Elan and trial versions of Soundstudio, Amadeus Pro, A Better Finder Rename, and iTunes, which will be demonstrated in the workshop. We will provide a list of additional preparation steps following receipt of your summary.


The course will combine:

  • a presentation of information about the use of audio-visual recordings and documents by communities and researchers for song revitalisation, including first hand experiences from Indigenous researchers and practitioners from the Kimberley, and published case studies
  • participant discussion of technical challenges inherent in community discovery of and access to audiovisual recordings
  • hands-on practice and testing of workflows to prepare long digital files and associated metadata for community access, using a suite of tools and incorporating best practices in data hygiene.

Testing your data using the FileMaker Song Database tool (v.91 or later) will involve:

  • provision of the tool
  • an overview of the tool and its development, including back end relationship schema, UUIDs, folder directories for media links, and exporting for access and backups. 
  • a hands-on walk through of: individual record entry and linking; batch metadata importing; batch file link creation; sharing files and folders in teams; exports for back up; and exports for community access and curation platforms, such as Mukurtu CMS, Storylines, iTunes, mp3 directories, html.

The Wrap Up will include participants discussing their  experiences with new tools, challenges and solutions to the access and discovery of audio-visual materials, and feedback on using the song database.

Main image: Johnny Divilli and Sally Treloyn (singing) with Pete O’Connor and Lloyd Nulgit (dancing) performing the 'biyu' dance, Chulalongkorn University, 45th International Council for Traditional Music World Conference 2019. 

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