If you have the ambition to encode musical data, the first idea that comes to mind is to use one of the software packages that have become widely available in recent years. However, a project team that manages to choose between these competing products would still be at the beginning of its problems: while it is true that these software programs have acquired some credentials in the art of harmoniously arranging graphical objects in a two-dimensional space, they remain largely ineffective in the art of collecting data. Once the user has moved, enlarged, modified and recomposed the musical staff that appears before his eyes, click by click, the files he manages to save on his hard drive are as clear as mud. Mostly cryptic, subject to the whims of their creators and unpredictable version changes, their format is enough to worry anyone who tries to extract usable data from them. This is without taking into account the fact that these programs ignore the logic of mensural notation and that, when transcribing medieval music, the user must constantly resort to expedients in order to achieve an acceptable graphical representation.

So why not look at the problem from the other side? If the goal is a file structured according to the XML standard, why not write such a file directly by hand? Simply because XML is an extraordinarily verbose standard. To accurately describe even a single musical note and its associated syllable usually requires more than a hundred characters of text:

<note dur="semibrevis" num="3" numbase="2" oct="4" pname="g"><verse n="1" lineid="0" color="#000000"><syl wordpos="i">non</syl></verse></note>

Whereas the code we use to enter data into a manuscript, called minimÆ, says exactly the same thing in six characters:

non g3

Initially apprehensive about typing code directly into a text editor, the team members responsible for transcribing the sources quickly become comfortable. For one thing, the code is intuitive and mnemonic enough that the learning curve is short. On the other hand, they have an online validator that allows them to visualize the result of their work without installing any special software, using lilypond in modern notation or verovio in mensural notation. As for the designers, they control the entire chain from input to database, which is no small advantage.