Exempa440: the cataloguing of Tod Dockstader's computer


Communication Studies


Mandel, Lauren

Advisor Department

Library and Information Studies




Part of an ongoing body of research involving the life and work of electronic composer Tod Dockstader.


Electronic music, computer music, Alzheimer’s disease, cataloguing, metadata

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Tod Dockstader’s career has taken many fascinating turns. At various times he has worked as a recording engineer, a creator of educational filmstrips, a cartoon storyboard artist, and he even created a film for Air Canada’s exhibit at the Expo ’67 in Montreal. However he is most well known for the startling avant-garde electronic music that he created in the 1960s, some of which can be heard in Fellini’s Satyricon. His work in the 60s was in a style known as “musique concrète,” a technique that builds music from fragments of magnetic tape spliced together. After decades of silence, he returned to music making in the early 2000s. By this time computer editing had replaced tape editing and Dockstader entered into the most prolific period of his musical creativity.

Personal struggles fueled Dockstader’s late period. Prior to the purchase of the computer, his wife Beverly was developing Alzheimer’s disease and eventually suffered from several strokes. Working on music late at night became both a coping mechanism and a distraction from the difficulties of caregiving. Eventually Tod himself began developing Alzheimer’s. He continued to work on music for the first couple of years of his dementia, creating some of his most profound works.

Tod’s old computer contains literally thousands of music files, ranging from milliseconds long fragments, to completed or mostly completed works. He left little evidence of his working methods, save a cryptic naming convention, and his current mental health makes it difficult to obtain reliable information from him despite weekly visits. Occasionally these inquiries yield useful information, other times they lead to incorrect claims such as Tod’s insistence that the acronym RMP stands for Royal Mounted Police.

The aim of this project has been to catalogue, describe, and organize the 4,202 music files found on Tod Dockstader’s computer. A controlled vocabulary was developed to describe the pieces. These terms were then assigned to appropriate fields in the metadata to organize the material and to allow for easier search capabilities. Care has been taken to preserve the last known date on which Dockstader worked on any given piece, as this information provides a detailed chronology of this work. Additionally, duplicates and previously released materials have been identified.

This work will be of interest to both laypersons and scholars across multiple disciplines. Fans and record labels around the world have expressed interest in hearing the unreleased material. Musicologists can use this information to further examine Dockstader’s place in the history of electronic music. Medical researchers may use this material to find interesting links between Alzheimer’s disease and creativity. And finally, those of us in Information Sciences could use this model as a way of developing a more standardized methodology for organizing the metadata associated with digital music files. This project is part of a larger body of work that is examining the life and work of Tod Dockstader. More info at UnlockingDockstader.com

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