Micro Computing for Musicology

Brenda S. Neece, Adjunct Assistant Professor and Curator of the Duke University Musical Instrument Collection
Department of Music

Project Description

Sony UltraMobile PC

For Brenda Neece’s course on Musicology, a requirement of all incoming PhD candidates in the Music Department, Neece and her students experimented with the use of small form factor Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs) for field research. Neece, during her own research, used a handheld Psion in her work to take notes, dictation, keep track of sources and even make sketches as she travelled in many locations researching musical instruments. With this project, Neece introduced the students to new methods of integrating technology with field research.

The UMPC is a new form factor computer – essentially a small tablet PC – giving the students access to a full Windows Vista computer in a small package. The project allowed the CIT to gain an understanding of ways that students and faculty might use this novel new portable computer.

The CIT loaned Neece and her two students Sony UMPCs during the Fall semester. The UMPCs have a stylus and could be used much like a tablet to create quick sketches and music notation. The computer includes a built-in webcam and digital still/video camera, as well as wireless capabilities, built-in microphone and other features. The computers were pre-loaded with productivity software, such as MS Office, and Endnote for creating and using citations. The Music Department provided licenses for the music notation software Sibelius for use on the computers during the project.

Neece and her students used the UMPC’s for common tasks, such as web browsing and editing of Word documents, but focused primarily on using the devices for research.  They used library electronic resources using WiFi access, made notes using the writing input-based Windows Journal, created and edited short musical examples with the stylus in Sibelius, and used the built-in camera to take quick images of sheet music or instruments for reference.

Despite some technical problems due to the emerging nature of the UMPC platform, the reaction was positive.  “It is fantastic to have the power of a full computer in one’s pocket,” Neece said at the end of the project.  “This is exactly what I would have loved to have had when I did all of my fieldwork and library research for my doctorate instead of my little Psion.”

Project Started: 8/30/2007
Funding: $5,400