Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Deborah Theresa Lee, Lyn Robinson, David Bawden

Last modified: 2017-12-18



Discussions about the universal, the global and the local are an important part of recent knowledge organization (KO) discourse.  For example, a letter by Szostak (2014) to the KO community about the universal nature of universality, a call for a new universal classification by Dahlberg (2017) and a panel at the 2016 ASIST conference about global/local knowledge organization (Adler et al. 2016), are just a few examples showing the importance of these subjects to contemporary KO.  This paper explores global classification within the context of one subject, music, and links these discussions to ideas about universality.  Even the meaning of the term “universality” in the context of knowledge organization (Szostak 2014; Satija & Martínez-Ávila 2017) is not agreed amongst theorists; so, this paper deliberately uses the framework of a single domain (music), to ask more general questions about how the desire for global classification fits into contemporary KO thinking about universality.  Therefore, the paper has the following research objectives:

1) To study the idea of the global and universality within music classification.

2) To suggest ways in which global music classification has been manifested in a specifically digital environment.

3) To further our understanding and offer new perspectives on global classification and universality within knowledge organization.

So, the paper considers the aims and practices of music classification in the twentieth century, and then sees how these are transfigured in the digital age.


This paper utilises various types of analysis as its research methodology.  Literature analysis is used to summarise existing research about universality and global/local knowledge organization.  Music classification discourse is analysed to locate historical and contemporary ideas of global music classification.  Both literature analysis and classification scheme analysis are employed to analyse music classification schemes and systems of music facets connected to global music classification.  In particular, an analysis of “consumption” (Lee 2015) is needed to ascertain whether the universal aims of a particular music classification scheme are met, and techniques from the “multiplane approach” (Lee 2017) are also occasionally used as a framework to differentiate types of information about particular classification schemes.


The results give insights into music classification while also furthering our general understanding of global classification.  Analysis of music classification literature shows that facets are a significant method of expressing universal intent; there is an idea of universal facets for music, which could be termed “super-facets”.  Three different sets of super-facets for music are examined, dating from the 1970s to 1990s: IAML’s (Dorfmüller 1975) 5 facets initiated at the conference for the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML) in 1974; Redfern’s  (1978) 13 facets, listed in his music classification textbook, and positioned as the inevitable result from facet analysis of 26 music documents; Elliker’s (1994) 7 facets, devised as a tool to compare 24 music classification schemes.  The results show that not only are each set of super-facets different in number and contents, but also that each set of super-facets had a different purpose and endgame.  These purposes of universality could be categorised: for analysis of systems (Elliker), for intellectual or conceptual discussions (IAML), and as a statement of music’s innate qualities (Redfern).  This illuminates how universality, especially for super-facets, can have a myriad of purposes and expectations.

The literature of 20th century music classification also yields another realisation of global intent: the “global music classification”, arguably a domain-specific relation to the 19th and 20th century ideals of universal classification systems.   Pethes’ (1967) A flexible classification system of music and literature on music is examined, which was intended as a universal scheme for classifying music.  Analysis of the universal aims, design and actual use of this scheme reveals interesting results.  While the contents of the scheme suggests global intentions, illustrated by its use of instruments and forms/genres outside of the Western art music canon, the scheme’s global aspirations were not met in terms of actual scheme consumption.  This suggests that examinations of global schemes and universality might benefit from an intention/consumption comparison, to examine the fascinating relationship between global intention and global reality.

The third set of results relate specifically to music classification in the digital age.  Here, the conception of super-facets by Downie (2003), a seminal work in Music Information Retrieval, is used as one example, alongside a faceted ontology for music by Madalli, Balaji and Sarangi (2015). Examining universality for music classification in the digital age yields a number of interesting questions and findings.  First, Downie’s (2003) facets is just one demonstration that that super-facets still has currency in a digital age.  Second, the pre-eminence of audio representations of music in the digital age, rather than notated music, has an impact on the super-facets deployed.  Third, the desire for a more universal conception of music in the study and performance of music (for example, multiple musical styles, less emphasis on European music, acknowledgement of performers as creators, etc.) unsurprisingly has an impact on global music classification.  Fourth, recent discussions in KO about the desirability of globalised classifications can be applied to music, showing how the opportunities offered by interoperability might dilute the allure of a single, global music classification system.


This paper offers a chance to add to global classification and universality discourse, through discussing ideas of global music classification.  The idea of “super-facets” is explored, which could be usefully folded into theories of universality.  Furthermore, the results show that there are various reasons and intentions behind global classification, and that contemplating and categorising these could be useful when considering theories of universality.  Comparing the non-digital and digital ages in terms of global music classification provides useful information about the meaning of universality, and demonstrates how some global intentions stay the same while others are changed by the digital world.  So, while the findings in this paper are useful for understanding more about the structure of music classification, they also offer general insights into how global classification and universality and classification could be studied in the future.


Adler, M. et al. (2015). Global/local knowledge organization: contexts and questions.  In Grove, A. et al. (Ed.), ASIST 2016: proceedings of the 79th ASIS&T annual meeting, 53. Available at: https://www.asist.org/files/meetings/am16/proceedings/openpage16.html.

Dahlberg, I. (2017). Why a new universal classification system is needed. Knowledge Organization, 44(1), 65-71.

Dorfmüller, K. (1975). "Working commissions: Subkommission für Klassifikation. Fontes Artis Musicae, 22(1/2), 48-49. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23506187.

Downie, J.S. (2003). Music information retrieval. In Annual review of information science and technology, 37. 295-340.

Elliker, C. (1994). Classification schemes for scores: analysis of structural levels. Notes, Second Series, 50(4), 1269-1320. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/898291.

Lee, D. (2017). Conceptions of knowledge about classification schemes: a multiplane approach. Information Research, 22(1). Available at: http://www.informationr.net/ir/22-1/colis/colis1648.html

Lee, D. (2015). Consumption, criticism and Wirkung: reception-infused analysis of classification schemes. Knowledge Organization, 42(7), 508-521.

Madalli, D.P., Balaji, B.P. & Sarangi, A.K. (2015). Faceted ontological representation for a music domain. Knowledge Organization, 42(1), 8-24.

Pethes, I. (1967). A flexible classification system of music and literature on music. Budapest: Centre of Library Science and Technology.

Satija, M.P. & Martínez-Ávila, D. (2017). Mapping of the universe of knowledge in different classification schemes. International Journal of Knowledge Content Development & Technology, 7(2), 85-105.

Szostak, R. (2014). How universal is universality? Knowledge Organization, 41(6), 468-470.